Japan on Monday joined China and South Korea in saying it would suspend pork imports from Germany after it confirmed a first case of African swine fever in the carcass of a wild boar in the state of Brandenburg near the German-Polish border last week.
African swine fever is highly contagious and deadly among wild boars and domestic pigs, but not harmful to humans.
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The news is a “source of great concern” according to the German Farmers' Association, or DBV, amid a series of crises for the traditionally robust meat sector.
The country's largest meat production plant was temporarily closed in June after more than 1,000 workers tested positive for the coronavirus, with the incident also highlighting the dire working conditions faced by workers — often from migrant backgrounds.
A string of other German abattoirs have also faced clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks.
The unflattering spotlight comes as the sector is already battling a progressive change in tastes, as vegetarian and vegan diets become more widespread.
A boar and its offspring in Springe, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA
Germany is Europe's largest producer of pork, slaughtering more than 55 million pigs last year, a fall of 3.0 percent compared with 2018, according to federal statistics agency Destatis.
The confirmation of a single African swine fever case in Germany means its pork can temporarily no longer be certified for export to non-EU nations, although sales to other EU nations may continue.
What loses does Germany's pork industry face as a result?
The Asian market represents around a quarter of German pork exports.
Chinese diners in particular have seen their appetite for German pork increase after the Asian country's own swine fever outbreak meant millions of pigs had to be slaughtered.
China alone makes up 17 percent of Germany's pork exports outside the European Union, with South Korea taking around four percent, and Japan three percent.
Out of around five million tonnes of German pork produced in 2019, China imported 600,000 tonnes, according to EU data.
South Korea was Germany's second most important market outside the EU.
Losses aren't yet quantifiable, according to the DBV, but could amount billions of euros if the suspensions continue.
The DBV is asking the German government to negotiate with client countries to limit the fallout for the industry, including calling for regions not affected by the disease to be able to continue exporting, DBV secretary general Bernhard Kruesken told AFP.
“We are in discussions with these countries,” a spokeswoman for Germany's Ministry of Food and Agriculture told a press conference Monday, while describing China's position as “very tough”.
Authorities said no other case has been detected since Thursday in Germany.
The subject could be discussed during a video conference Monday between Chinese President Xi Jinping and EU leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel set to focus heavily on trade tensions.
A sniffer dog in Fredeburg, Schleswig-Holstein has been trained to detect dead wild boars. Photo: DPA
How did swine flu come to Germany?
Germany has long feared that the deadly pig disease would land on its doorstep.
Since late 2019, several cases of African swine fever have been detected in neighbouring Poland, with some observers saying it was only a matter of time before it crossed the border.
Neighbouring Belgium has also reported several cases since 2018.
Drastic measures have been taken in recent months to ward off the threat in Germany, such as the use of drones, and sniffer dogs trained to track down dead boars.
Brandenburg state even erected a 120-kilometre long electric fence to stop wild boars.