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U.S. pork exports to China have skyrocketed since the end of 2019 after much of China's pig population was destroyed by an African swine fever epidemic.
That number was expected to stay high after China agreed to buy billions of dollars of pork a year under President Trump's phase one trade deal. Now, U.S.-China tensions caused by the coronavirus outbreak may throw off such an agreement.
The U.S. exported more than 95,000 tons of pork to China in March, according to USDA data. That's compared to less than 22,000 tons in March 2019.
Meanwhile, a bottleneck in pork processing caused by pandemic-related plant closures is forcing farmers to kill off their healthy livestock without sending it to the market. Officials have estimated that about 700,000 pigs throughout the United States can’t be processed each week and must be euthanized. Most of the hogs are being killed at farms, but up to 13,000 a day also may be euthanized at a pork plant in Worthington, Minn.
China produces and consumes two-thirds of the world's pork, but its supplies plunged as authorities destroyed pigs and blocked shipments to contain an outbreak of African swine fever that was confirmed in August 2018. Chinese farmers have allowed herds to dwindle.
U.S. pork exports to China have been elevated since November 2019, before coronavirus outbreaks forced closures at meat processing plants throughout the country. Supermarkets have been limiting shoppers' meat purchases since April.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.