World Pig Production, Opportunity or Threat?

By Donald E. Orr Jr. and Yingran Shen and published in the Midwest Swine Nutrition Conference 2006.
calendar icon 12 February 2007
clock icon 16 minute read


The global production and consumption of pork has increased substantially in recent decades. This demand for pork clearly offers opportunities for both U.S. and foreign pork producers to expand international sales. Domestic demand for pork in individual countries is related to market size, supply and prices of competitive meats, per capita income effect on protein demand and pork demand’s vulnerability to currency or economic instability.

Pork production in countries dependent on high exports and also experiencing economic variation will cause returns to be lower and more variable. U.S. pork exports have been enhanced by the current low value of the U. S. dollar and the fact that Brazil has been unable to ship pork to key Asia markets due to Brazil’s Foot and Mouth disease related restrictions. Primary challenges for the U.S. pork industry are animal welfare, ethanol’s impact on feed stock price, labor availability, environmental/political issues and food safety/traceability programs.

While strong competition for export markets will come from both old and new pork producing countries, an improving global economic growth and rising demand for pork, especially in the Asian countries, will contribute to gains for U.S. pork production and exports.


World pork consumption has increased by 27% from 1997 to 2005, with total global pork consumption for 2005 at over 93 million metric tons (MT). Pork is the meat of choice worldwide and offers opportunities for both U.S. pork producers and foreign pork producers to expand international sales. The value of U.S. pork exports in 2005 was $2.28 billion or $22.01 per U.S. hog slaughtered (Plain, 2006).

Top Pork Producing Countries

The top 12 pork producing countries for 2005 and their pork tonnage are listed in Table 1. China, with about 50% of the world pig population, heads the list, followed by E.U.-25 countries of Europe, United States (USA), Brazil and Canada, for the top five pork production positions (FAS/USDA, 2006). While world pork production has increased by 15.1% from 2000 to 2005, the top five countries in percent increase in pork production over this five year period from the list of 12 countries are Brazil (39.3%), Vietnam (27.8%), China (23.2%), Russia (17.0%), and Canada (16.8%). During this 5 year period, USA percent increase in pork production was 9.3% while the E.U.-25 increased by only 2.3% (FAS/USDA , 2006).

Liberalization of trade worldwide has resulted in significant increases in global trade in pork. It has become increasingly essential to be competitive in the global market, as this can contribute significantly to the profitability of a country’s primary pork producers (Young, 2005). To be competitive in the export markets will require:

  • Low cost of production (not a guarantee for survival)
  • Efficient production
  • Quality and safety of products
  • Reliability of supply

World Trade in Live Feeder Pigs and Slaughter Hogs

World trade in live hogs exported and imported for 2004, which includes feeder pigs and slaughter hogs, is presented in Table 2 (FAO, 2005). Canada heads the hogs exported list with 8.5 million head exported in 2004, while the USA imported in 2004 nearly the same number of live hogs to lead the list of hogs imported. The combination of pork exports and sale of feeder pig and slaughter hogs to the USA accounts for nearly 70% of Canada’s hog production.

This large export trade in pork and live animals reflects the response of the North American pig industry to it’s competitive advantages (Young, 2005). Canada has better herd reproductive efficiency than the USA, but the U.S. is very competitive in finishing pigs for market, along with a generally stronger American dollar so as to purchase pigs at a very competitive price.

Both the Netherlands and Denmark are large exporters of live hogs, with many of these going to Germany for feeding and slaughter or to Eastern Europe for feeding purposes. China is the primary provider of live market hogs for Hong Kong’s wet slaughter market.

Top Pork Importing and Exporting Countries

Top pork import countries
As shown in Table 3, Pacific Rims, Russia, and Mexico are the major pork import countries. Among those, Japan is the biggest pork importer. In 2005, Japan imported a record amount of pork with 1.339 MMT, over 1.2 MMT being generic pork (chilled and frozen combined) and 90 thousand metric ton of prepared and processed pork. There were increased imports from U.S., Chile, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, and Austria with a decrease from Denmark. This record number is in part, due to the tight supply of beef in 2004 (FAS/USDA, 2006).

Japan has the most strict import standard and labeling requirement. New Japanese food import standards may require more U.S. testing and could force some U.S. pork producers to change what they feed their hogs. The new rules change maximum residue limits on all food products for 799 feed additives, veterinary drugs and agriculture chemicals, compared to the previous number of 283 substances (Bratton, 2006). Producers may have to stop giving hogs these additives for a longer time before slaughter to meet new limits.

As emphasized by Liddell and Bailey (2001), the U. S. pork industry is generally lagging its principal international competitors of EU and major international customers in terms of developing programs for traceability, transparency, and assurance. If EU further differentiates themselves in these areas, the U.S. may lose its competitiveness in the world market, especially in Japan, as Japan emphasizes heavily on imported food labeling.

Mexico is the second biggest export market for U.S. pork. Mexico’s pork industry has not kept up with the rising domestic demand, and therefore Mexico has as deficit in pork production and is import dependent. Mexican consumer preferences for products and cuts not preferred in the United States help drive this market for chilled and frozen pork, variety meats, and processed meats and specific cuts for manufacturing, food service, and retail sale. Mexico is also a strong market for live hogs, although live hog imports have been less stable than have imports of pork and variety meats. Russia is the major export market for EU and Brazil. Russian market share of Brazilian pork imports increased from 57.8% in 2004 to 66.6% in 2005.

Top export countries

As shown in Table 3, EU and Canada export more pork than the US. However, EU’s export to Japan has decreased due to competition from the U.S., but EU’s export to Russia has increased. Although EU, especially west European countries, has high production cost, they identify their pork as high quality, customer oriented. EU hog production has changed from production oriented to market oriented, with emphasis on traceability and safety requirements.

EU will probably continue to be a strong competitor for the U.S. pork export market. Brazil is another major pork exporter. Brazilian pork exports in 2005 increased by 22.4% in volume. In 2005, Brazilian pork exporters increased their shipments of pork cuts, which now account for over 75 percent of all pork exports. The increase in pork cuts reflects the strategy of Brazilian exporters to increase profitability by exporting higher value products.

Beside the fact that China is the biggest pork producing country in the world and that most pork produced is consumed domestically, China is also a key player for pork export. However, China only exports live pigs to Hong Kong, and is now exporting some pork or processed meat to neighboring countries like Russia and South Korea.

Chile ranks 6th among the major pork exporters in the world (FAS/USDA, 2006), and has benefited from being one of the fastest growing economies in the western hemisphere with increasing integration in their hog industry. Chilean pork exports have grown significantly during the last decade, from 2,755 MT in 1995 to over 129,000 MT in 2005, with an esti mated 174,000 MT in 2006 for an average annual increase of over 40 percent. The main destinations for Chilean pork are Japan, South Korea, Mexico and EU member countries.

USA Pork Production

U.S. pork production is domestic dependent, producing 9.392 million MT, with an increase of 9.3% from 2000 to 2005 (FAS/USDA, 2006). The estimated industry total daily processing capability is 423,500 head, with major packers making up about 90% of this capacity. The ten leading packers each process more then 10,000 slaughter hogs daily, with Smithfield Foods having a capacity of nearly 110,000 head per day in the U.S.

Increasingly export driven, the U.S. exported 1.2 million MT in 2005, up 100% over the year 2000. Japan continues to be the largest foreign customer for U.S. pork, (45% of all U.S. exports), followed by Mexico and Canada. U.S pork exports have been helped by the currently low-valued U.S. dollar, and the fact that Brazil has been unable to ship to key markets due to Brazil’s Foot and Mouth disease (FMD)-related restrictions. U.S. hog slaughter has been complimented by increasing imports of Canadian feeder pigs for finishing and slaughter.

Economic predictions by Greenwood (2006) indicate that breakeven costs will be similar in 2012 as they are today. Ethanol production will lead to higher feed costs. Higher capital costs will occur in the replacement of older buildings. Thus, better production must occur to maintain current production costs. Opportunities for the U.S. pork industry include being able to play a dominant role in the global protein market. The potential exists for the U.S. to export up to 25% of the pork production by 2012, with China possibly emerging as a major export market (Greenwood, 2006).

Primary challenges for the U.S. pig industry are animal welfare (driven by food companies down to the producer level), ethanol use of the limited raw feed stocks, labor availability, and environmental/political issues. Food safety and traceability projects for quality assurance will be of foremost importance, especially as related to pork exports (Greenwood, 2006). Information systems on traceability will be required, as will technology to reduce labor costs. Segmented products will have differing breakeven costs and margins will become a focus point equally important as costs. A major compilation of worldwide pig production costs, feed costs and pig prices for 2005 was conducted by PIC, a worldwide breeding stock supplier. This summary indicated that the major countries with production costs below $1 US per kg live weight, starting with the lowest production costs, included Brazil, USA, China, Canada, Chile and Thailand (PIC, 2006)

Canada Pork Production

Unlike the U.S., Canada is a pork export-oriented country, as a result of policy change and modest population growth (Haley, 2005). Instead of exporting grains, Canada has developed a pork industry aimed at the export market since 1996. The production increased from around one million MT in early 1980’s to the current production of about two million MT. The Canadian pork industry broke export records in 2005, shipping 1.029 million MT valued at $2.84 billion Canadian. Currently, Canada exports more than 50% of its total production, as compared to that of 12.9% in the U.S. (FAS/USDA, 2006).

The relationship of the Canadian hog industry to its counterpart in the U.S. is complementary. In fact, among Canadian hog exports of around 8.5 million pigs in recent years (around 70% being feeder pigs), the great majority of these exports go to the U.S. and make up most of the imported hogs for the U.S. hog industry. This represents more than an eight times increase from ten years ago. In a competitive assessment, Canada has the advantage in farrowing, while U.S. has advantages in finishing and packing (Haley, 2005).

Canada has successfully diversified its pork export markets while sales to the U.S. have been in decline over the past few years and now represents less than 40% of Canada’s pork exports (Haley, 2005). After the export to the U.S., Canada exports its next most pork to Japan. It reached 266,000 MT at a cost of $1.01 billion in 2005. Canada is the third largest generic pork (chilled and frozen combined) provider to Japan (22% market share, following the 30% market share from the U.S. and 29% from Denmark). For prepared and processed pork, Canada is the second biggest provider (27% Japanese market share), following the 48% market share from the U.S. In this regard, Canada is clearly a competitor to the U.S. hog industry.

Latin America Pork Production

For the purpose of examining pork production in the area of the world south of the United States (USA), the three key pork producing countries are Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Domestic demand in most of these Latin American countries has been unstable over the last 15 years. The Brazilian and Mexican pork demand trend line demonstrates two critical drivers that are prevalent in the region’s pork demand complex. First is the importance of per capita income on protein demand and, second, is pork demand’s vulnerability to currency or economic shocks (Canfield, 2006).

Brazil’s per capita pork consumption (12.4 kg) is only 14% of the total per capita meat consumption, while Chile’s per capita pork consumption at 20.3 kg is nearly double that of Brazil’s. Mexico is a net importer of pork, with the USA as its major provider. Mexico is a major importer of the ham muscle from the USA (Canfield, 2006) and typifies a domestic pork deficit country. Brazil and Chile export approximately 20% of their annual pork slaughter tonnage and have a similar pattern to the Canadian model for pork exports.

The two largest pork processors in Brazil, Sadia and Perdigao, have recently embarked on joint export marketing for poultry and pork. Today, Chile has been able to capture lucrative export markets in Japan and South Korea, whereas Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) has limited Brazil’s export market to less prosperous countries such as Russia and the former Soviet block countries (Canfield, 2006). Brazil’s rail and road infrastructure also limits its near-term competitiveness on pork exports.

European Pork Production

The West European market is characterized by four major factors (Hartog, 2005):

  • Changed from production-oriented to market (consumer)-oriented.
  • Critical consumers with requirements concerning sustainability methods of production.
  • Large market of high income consumers demanding product traceability and food safety.
  • High production costs relative to other areas of pork production.

The Danish pork industry is the largest exporter of pork in the world, with 17% of the world pork exports derived from 2% of the world’s pig production. Exports account for 85% of Danish pig production. Added value and flexibility to meet global market demands on products and quality are the cornerstone of Denmark’s success. Denmark’s labor costs are the most expensive in the world, which has led Danish Crown Company to finish products in the final markets, which include the UK, Germany, Poland and USA. Danish Crown operates three pork and bacon processing plants in the USA. The challenge to the Danish pork industry will be to lower pork costs by innovation, automation and entering foreign processing markets such as Poland and Eastern Europe (Johannesen, 2005).

Poland currently exports pork to South Korea and Polish companies will soon start to export pork to the Japanese market. Major Polish meat companies (Sokolow, Animex and Duda) will benefit due to the new European Union standards adopted by their industry. Poland has good access to feed grains, available low cost labor and excellent market location to access Germany and Russia (Luckman, 2006).

Current limitations to pork production in Poland include weak management expertise, persistent outdated government policy and restricted access to capital. Smithfield Foods through its Animex company venture has succeeded by utilizing quality swine genetics, setting up artificial insemination boar stud centers; encouraging quality feed production and paying its pig producer customers on a more timely basis. Danish Crown has also invested in pork slaughter plants in Poland.

China Pork Production

China is the biggest pork producing country. However, its market is totally domestic oriented. China produced 49.7 MMT in 2005, slightly over 50% of the total world pork production. China’s pork production is estimated to be 52 MMT for 2006, a 4.7% increase from that of 2005 (FAS/USDA, 2006). The per capita consumption for China (33.8 kg) is among the highest in the world, only slightly lower than that of Hong Kong, the EU, and Taiwan, which are countries or regions with higher per capita incomes (Fabiosa et al., 2005).

Despite its massive population, China is almost self-sufficient in pork supplies, and imports account for less than one percent of total pork production. Frozen boneless pork accounts for the major portion of China’s pork imports for high end consumers. The USA is the largest variety pork supplier to China, accounting for 37% of China’s total imports (226,736 MT) during the first 11 months of 2005.

A favorable dollar exchange rate will help the competitiveness of U.S. exports to China (GAIN Report, 2006). China’s swine and pork exports in 2006 are forecasted to increase 16% to 2 million head. China’s swine export markets will not change, with Hong Kong, Japan, North Korea, and Russia as its major exports market. For the first time since 2004, Japan will become China’s second largest pork market (GAIN Report, 2006).

Between 1996 and 2005, the compound annual growth rate of the production of pork in China is 5.1% (Boal, et al., 2005). Despite the majority (70%) of Chinese hog production being still small scale or backyard production, larger sized commercial farms have been increasing, thus improving production efficiency. The number of swine slaughtered from commercial farms increased 26% in 2004 over the previous year. This has increased pig production and lowered pork prices in China in 2005-2006.

The limiting factors for Chinese hog production are higher production cost, lack of capital resources, and limited market information. Official market statistic information is normally announced one to two years later. There are no official forecasts for future production. Furthermore, disease and residue control are also challenges. Animal diseases (e.g., FMD) are difficult to monitor and control in China’s widespread, small-scale farming system (GAIN Report, 2006). China must develop pork systems with uniform, high quality genetics, which can be slaughtered and processed in modern pork processing plants if it is going to supply quality, uniform pork. This has already been achieved by the broiler industry in China, but a lack of modern processing plants has limited availability of high quality pork.

Literature cited

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Further Information

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September 2006
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