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Swine Fever In China Forces Germans To Pay More For Pork

Jan 7, 2020
Originally published on January 15, 2020 8:38 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

German meat producers are sounding the alarm. An outbreak of African swine fever in China has killed millions of pigs, and that has pushed up the world price of pork. Now there are fears of a sausage shortage in a country that really loves sausage.

Here's NPR's Rob Schmitz.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONE SAW CUTTING)

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Butcher Marcus Benser uses a bone saw to separate knuckles from the feet of a cut of pork in a store in Berlin. In Germany, pork knuckle with potatoes and sauerkraut is a popular dish. So are many other variations of pork. It's the most popular meat in Germany.

MARCUS BENSER: (Through interpreter) It's about confidence. We can afford it. It's a repercussion of World War II, when many were starving and everything was in ruins. In the '50s, we could consume meat. We finally felt full again. This feeling has stayed with us since then. We may have lost the war, but we are somebody. We can afford to eat meat.

SCHMITZ: But that may soon change. African swine fever has devastated China's pig population. An estimated 100 million pigs have died since it broke out more than a year ago. The current prediction is that a quarter of the global pig population is expected to die as a result of it. Benser, who specializes in making sausage, has raised prices by more than 30% in the past year alone.

BENSER: (Through interpreter) Most of my sausages contain pork. If there's a significant shortage, I don't know how I'd be able to continue.

SCHMITZ: Benser is not alone.

STEFAN KRUSE: (Through interpreter) A year ago, the price was one euro 35 for a kilo of pork. Now we're over two. That's a big jump, and we're expecting even higher prices.

SCHMITZ: Stefan Kruse is a manager at Vion, Germany's second largest pork producer. He says the price increase due to African swine fever has led to an 8% decrease in pork consumption in the past year in Germany. At the same time, Germany's pork exports to China have skyrocketed 30%.

KRUSE: (Through interpreter) In Germany, we had something similar before with the classic swine flu, where we also had a strong decline. It completely disrupted the market. But to predict that? No chance.

SCHMITZ: Back in the Berlin butcher shop, Benser has not seen anything like this either. He slices fat off a cut of pork with one hand, while his other, inside a chainmail glove, holds the meat in place. Benser's father was a butcher. So was his grandfather and great-grandfather - independent butchers all the way back seven generations. Benser says his dad pushed him into banking, but it didn't make him happy, so his father punished him by teaching him the family trade. He's held on to his economics training, and he throws a little political science into the mix when he talks about how this pork shortage might play out for China.

BENSER: (Through interpreter) The reason communists are still in power in China is that they've managed to provide people with the fundamentals. That's something the Soviets couldn't do. The Chinese state apparatus buys a massive amount of food from around the world because as soon as the people start to get hungry, there will be a revolution. It's that simple.

SCHMITZ: And he wonders if it's that simple for Germans, too, once meat becomes too expensive.

BENSER: (Through interpreter) These radical movements in Germany are fueled by your average Joe who just wants to drink a beer, flip on the grill and throw a slab of meat on it after work. If meat becomes too expensive, they're not going to say, put a carrot on the grill. They're going to say, I'm not putting up with this.

SCHMITZ: And while they may not start a revolution, Benser says, they'll cast their next vote for radical parties that promise a better life complete with affordable bratwurst. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.