FAO warns disease slashing global meat output, bananas under watch

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A rapid spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) is wiping out pig herds in China, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Thursday, and the killer disease has led to a drop in world meat production for the first time in more than 20 years, with other global staples also facing new threats.

The Organization’s latest Food Outlook, published on Thursday, anticipates ASF will lead to a contraction of at least 20 per cent in the output of pork products in China, the world’s largest producer, accounting for half of all global production.

As a result, the combined output of cattle, sheep, poultry and pig meat is forecast to total 335 million tonnes in carcass weight equivalent – one per cent lower than the previous year, according to FAO.

ASF prompted soaring prices for pig meat earlier this year, as China’s first reported outbreak in 2018 took hold, affecting 34 mainland provinces as of this July, where tens of millions of households depend on the animal for income.

The current failure to curb the highly-contagious disease is expected to strain global markets, with no vaccine currently available. Though harmless to humans, in pigs it causes high fever, internal bleeding, and will almost always kill the animal within weeks.

Overall, the decline in China’s meat output is partially offset by higher production of poultry, which has rapidly increased, and is expected to grow by 17 per cent consistently in coming years, making up around 39 per cent of the world’s total meat production.

An increase of bovine and sheep products is projected as the year draws to a close, in Argentina, Brazil, the European Union (EU) and the United States. Global changes to the world’s meat output will mean trade growth of around 6.7 per cent this year, compared to a slowing trend for other food types.

Meanwhile, the world’s most traded fruit is also in danger of becoming more scarce, amidst rising prices, as a fungal strain spreads across banana plantations in Latin America and Asia.

The Food Outlook assesses the hypothetical market risks posed by the TR4, Tropical Race 4, disease, on bananas, a vital cash crop threatened by the pathogen, which infects roots and stems.

Conservative estimates suggest that TR4 will take its greatest toll in Asia, FAO warned, which could lead to a two per cent drop in global output of bananas, cut some 240,000 jobs within the industry, and trigger a near 10 per cent rise in prices over less than a decade.

FAO’s Food Outlook is a report published biannually, focusing on developments affecting global food and feed markets. The Organization, in addition, supplies analyses on major international commodities, the future of crop prospects, price developments, and other data.

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