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Swine Fever? Trade War? China Turns to Strategic Pork Reserve

In a 1996 essay, an official with China Foods Limited, a government-affiliated company that managed the national pork reserve, wrote that the official stockpile had grown to 200,000 tons from around 20,000 tons at inception. The number dipped in the early 2000s, researchers say. But it seemed to have recovered by 2011, when, amid a bout of infectious disease that brought pork prices to new highs, China’s commerce ministry said the national reserve held around 200,000 tons.

The big question, of course, is whether the reserves could ever be large enough to have a meaningful effect on prices. China consumes over 50 million tons of pork a year, or nearly half of the pork that is eaten annually by all of humankind. Pretty much all of that comes from pigs raised within the country.

But analysts estimate that China’s herd is already 40 percent smaller this year than last, as hogs die from African swine fever, are culled to control the disease’s spread or are never born in the first place. Analysts at Jefferies, the investment bank, predict that the nation will produce 30 percent less pork this year compared with last year, a drop of 16 million tons.

Against those numbers, even 200,000 tons of emergency meat can seem like a drop in the ocean.

China’s central government has more than a dozen storehouses around the country, each of which can hold around 10,000 tons of frozen raw pork. There are also private and state-owned companies that work with the authorities to manage national and local reserves.

These companies mostly keep their pork in unmarked suburban warehouses, where the meat stays at the state-mandated temperature of minus-18 degrees Celsius, or just under zero degrees Fahrenheit. In 2013, a reporter in the eastern province of Shandong got a peek inside one such facility, where 1,500 tons of pork was sitting behind a double-locked door. The guard at the warehouse was wearing eight layers of clothing.

Technically, though, China’s pork reserves don’t contain only meat. Since the ’90s, the government has stockpiled live pigs, too.

In 2007, when reporters in Shandong visited a farm that bred pigs for the provincial reserve, they found tens of thousands of hogs running around in what sounded like pretty idyllic conditions: “The area is lush with vegetation and shaded by trees. The hog house is tall and spacious. There is heating in the winter and ventilator fans in the summer.”

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