Soaring Chinese fish prices rattle food supply


Vendors wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak work at a seafood and freshwater fish stall inside a market in Beijing, China, on January 15, 2021. Picture taken January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

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BEIJING/SINGAPORE, Sept 10 (Reuters) – Chinese consumers are struggling to endure a nearly 50% rise in fish prices from a year ago, which marks the latest upheaval in the country’s vast food sector in following a deadly outbreak of swine disease. which saw pork prices triple in 2019.

Fish used to be one of the cheapest sources of protein in China, but is now more expensive than chicken and recently also more expensive than basic pork.

Average wholesale prices of four freshwater fish monitored by the country’s agriculture ministry jumped nearly 40 percent from a year earlier, according to the latest official data, and some popular fish such as grass carp increased further. Read more

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Grass carp was at 21.06 yuan ($3.27) per kilogram at the end of August, up about 60 percent from a year ago, and pork fell to 20.8 yuan, the data showed. .

While pork prices have fallen 60% this year due to higher production and new outbreaks of African swine fever which have sent waves of pigs to the slaughterhouse, the sharp rise in the fish market has helped to push up consumer prices in China for six consecutive months. Read more

Top Protein Prices in China

A combination of supply issues linked to tougher environmental standards and reduced rainfall in some regions has impacted Chinese fish production this year, while demand for fish has increased since the outbreak of swine fever. has driven up pork prices and encouraged consumers to diversify their protein intake.

“On the supply side, there is a combination of greener regulations that limit the areas that can be used to farm fish and feed costs have also been high, and some of these increased costs are passed on to consumers,” said Darin Friedrichs, senior analyst at StoneX.

“While pork prices have fallen recently, it has been expensive for two years and consumers have been diversifying their diets, including eating more fish,” Friedrichs said.

The impact of COVID-19 on global supply chains has also supported domestic fish prices, after China suspended imports of seafood from various origins after detecting the new coronavirus on some shipments, which hampered the supply.

COSTLY PRODUCTION

A massive environmental clean-up campaign has led China to restrict fish farming along major waterways in recent years, leading to a drop in the number of fish farms. Read more

“Fishing is prohibited in many waterways and net cages as the state has tightened environmental protections,” said an eastern-based fish feed producer. China, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Rising feed costs for aquaculture were another factor driving up fish prices. Key fish feed ingredients including rapeseed, soybeans and cottonseed meal have all risen, said the producer, which has hiked its fish feed prices three times since May, and up until at 20%.

China’s animal meal and fish meal prices rise due to supply constraints and high demand

“Silver carp, for example, used to be cheaper than tofu, but now it’s twice the price of tofu,” he said.

DISEASE IMPACT

The aftermath of African Swine Fever has impacted the entire protein industry in China.

Record pork prices in 2019 and 2020 encouraged farmers to aggressively increase pork production, but the resulting surge in supply this year – accentuated by record meat imports and new outbreaks – has fueled a slump in hog and hog prices that left the industry reeling.

“The outbreak of swine fever, which has led to pork shortages and exorbitant prices, has tipped the balance even further in favor of fish consumption,” said Barsali Bhattacharyya of the Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU).

Heightened concerns about food safety have also changed consumer behavior.

“In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, heightened fear of zoonotic diseases will see Chinese consumers continue to prefer fish,” Bhattacharyya said.

Consumption of pork in China, the most consumed meat in the country, fell 25% in 2020 from 2018 and remains well below the peak in 2014, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

The outlook for fish consumption is strong, however, with China expected to account for 40% of the increase in global food demand for fish, which will reach 180 million tonnes by 2029, according to the Food Organization of the United Nations. and agriculture (FAO).

That said, with some wholesale fish prices now even with pork, some shifts from fish to pork could now support the pork market and dampen fish momentum.

“As pork prices return to normal levels, consumption of alternatives will decline relatively, including demand for fish,” said a China-based analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. .

($1 = 6.4382 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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Reporting by Hallie Gu in Beijing and Gavin Maguire in Singapore; Editing by Kim Coghill

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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