Where does China get its pork?

Here’s a question you might not have pondered: Where does China get its pork?

The answer is… not from the United States. And definitely not from North Carolina.

This would be a surprise if you’ve happened across a recent story from Rolling Stone magazine, which published a wildly inaccurate portrayal of the pork industry in North Carolina.

The tale is clearly being offered up now in support of pending lawsuits that attack hog farmers. Not only does the story get basic facts wrong, but the entire thrust is recklessly off the mark. Let’s focus on that for now.

The headline: “Why is China treating North Carolina like the developing world?”

And then: “How lax regulation made it cheaper for China to outsource pork production … to the U.S.”

The story quotes several people, including a New Jersey senator who said China “is outsourcing a dirty industry to the United States so they don’t have to bear its pollution and they can just send the finished product back home.”

None of that is true. Not even close.

Farmers in China produce in the range of about 450 million hogs each year to feed a growing nation that is, far and away, the top consumer of pork products in the world. (North Carolina’s entire hog and pig population is about 9 million.)

Last year, about 96 percent of the pork consumed in China was produced by … drum roll, please … Chinese hog farmers. That’s not changing.

Last year, about 96 percent of the pork consumed in China was produced by Chinese hog farmers.

Chinese pork companies, of which there are many, import the other 4 percent of pork and pork variety meats from around the world.

Where do you think China gets most of that product?

The main source of imported pork to China is the European Union, led by Germany and Spain.

In total, China brings in about two-thirds of its pork imports from the E.U.

At most, the entire U.S. pork industry has accounted for as much as 1 percent of China’s pork consumption in any year. (It’s lower than that of late.) If you want to know North Carolina’s share of that sliver, it’s not too hard to figure out.

North Carolina is a leading hog producer – but not the only one. Iowa, for example, dwarfs all other U.S. states. Minnesota is about the same size as North Carolina.

Our share here in North Carolina of the entire U.S. pork export market is somewhere around 10 percent.

And so there you have it.

China sources about one-tenth of 1 percent of its pork production from North Carolina, where state regulators inspect the farms and stringent regulations require detailed and scientific plans for managing the manure as a fertilizer on growing crops.

What do we send to China? It’s mostly pig ears, pig feet and pig stomachs.

What do we send to China? It’s mostly pig ears, pig feet and pig stomachs.

There are not many other markets as valuable as China for those products.

In all, Americans buy about 75 percent of pork we in the U.S. produce — and we all enjoy those ribs and bacon and tenderloin and shoulders and sausages.

We find great markets for the rest as part of managing and balancing the production and processing. Many hams go to our top export market, which is Mexico. Loins are very popular in Japan, our other primary trading partner.

Mexico and Japan are our mainstays – not China.

What we call “variety” meats go to China.

This type of trading with other nations is wonderful for our farmers because it adds value to the economy back home, including here in North Carolina.

This type of trading is wonderful for our farmers because it adds value to the economy in North Carolina.

This is why pork producers support free trade.

Free trade keeps farmers in rural North Carolina farming. It keeps processing plants, with good-paying jobs, running. It keeps rural businesses, from car dealers to groceries, busier.

Let’s circle back to our original question: Where does China get its pork?

Here’s the most recent data:

  1. China, 96%
  2. Germany, 0.8 %
  3. Spain, 0.64%
  4. Canada, 0.56%
  5. United States, 0.5%
  6. Denmark, 0.44%
  7. Netherlands, 0.36%
  8. France, 0.2%
  9. Ireland, 0.12%
  10. Chile, 0.12%

 

— Andy Curliss, CEO