Last year, Thailand imported approximately 400-million-baht of live pigs and pork products mainly from Denmark and the US. Swine Raisers Association of Thailand president Surachai Sutthitham urged the government to suspend the import of breeds from foreign countries due to the swine-flu. It should also ban imports of low-priced innards, which he said were unhealthy products from developed countries which have a big impact on local pork prices. Thailand imported about 1,000 tonnes of pig innards and 8,600 tonnes of pork skin last year.
Swine flu is unlikely to affect the premium-grade pork market as many retailers have already confirmed that their business is stable.
Segsarn Trai-Ukos, business development director at CenCar Co, which operates Carrefour hypermarkets, said he did not expect any impact from the outbreak as the chain sells fresh pork raised on closed farms in Thailand. The only imported pork products at Carrefour are sausages from France, he said.
Central Food Retail Co general manager Sukiet Kittitammachote, which operates Tops Supermarket, said all the pork sold at Tops is locally-produced. The outbreak of deadly swine flu in Mexico will inevitably affect Thailand’s 70-billion-baht pork industry, experts say. More than 60 million birds were culled across Thailand during that outbreak, which killed 17 people, and saw exports of raw chicken meat fall to zero while domestic consumption shrank by about 20%, he said.
“It took three to four months for the Thai business to return to normal. But I’m sure the effects of the current situation would be shorter if consumers understand that the flu does not come from pigs, swine are actually the victims. It is a flu that is transmitted from person to person,” Dr Nopporn said.
The World Health Organisation is currently investigating infected farms in Mexico, but has yet to publish any results. Meanwhile, Dr Nopporn has instructed farmers with flu-type illnesses not to come into close contact with pigs. Consumers can cut any perceived risks by eating well-cooked meat.
Internal Trade Department director-general Yanyong Phuangrach said the psychological effects would cause local consumption and pork prices to fall.
Local pork prices have remained high in recent weeks, at 120-135 baht per kilogramme, as hot weather has slowed the growth in pigs bred for slaughter, but he said the flu could turn consumers away.
The department will join other agencies in boosting consumer confidence over the safety of Thai pork, by raising awareness on how most domestic pork products come from meat reared in closed farms, which keep the herds away from other animals, especially birds. According to Dr Nopporn, up to 70% of the 12 million pigs raised in Thailand every year are raised on closed farms. Many pork producers, including Betagro, have improved production standards positioning Thailand as a significant exporter of the meat, he said, with last year’s shipments totalling 14,000 tonnes of chilled and processed meat.
“So far, premium-grade pork sales remain normal, and our exports are mostly of cooked products which are still fine,” Dr Nopporn said.
Thailand’s foot-and-mouth disease outbreak several years back prompted Betagro and Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF) to shift to cooked products. CPF vice-president for animal health Narin Romlamduan said the company’s business was unlikely to be adversely affected by swine flu, as all of its exports are of cooked meat.
Thailand yesterday joined several countries, including China, to ban pig imports from Mexico and the US.