China says pig herd shrinks by 32% in July amid swine fever outbreak

FILE PHOTO: Pigs are seen on the back of a truck outside a slaughterhouse in Dongguan

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's pig herd shrank by 32.2% in July from the same month a year ago, its agriculture ministry said on Thursday, as African swine fever continues to spread through the country.

The ministry also said the number of sows declined by 31.9% in July, a year after the nation reported its first outbreak of the disease, which is fatal to pigs but does not harm people.

Swine fever has hit the world's top pork-producing nation hard, roiling its vast agribusiness sector and reshaping the global meat trade.

The declines in both pig and sow numbers last month are significantly steeper than in June data, when the pig herd shrank by 25.8% and sow numbers fell 26.7%.

(GRAPHIC - China says pig herd shrinks by 32% in July amid swine fever outbreak:

Industry estimates suggest the herd may have contracted much more, however, with some putting the decline at 50%.

"The pig herd hasn't reached its lowest level yet. It will fall further in the second half of the year," Zhang Liwei, a senior analyst at the official China National Grains and Oils Information Center, told a conference on Friday.

He said the decline would further impact soymeal demand, which is already under pressure.

The growing shortfall in pigs has pushed China's live hog prices above the 2016 record, with the national average at 23.49 yuan ($3.34) per kg this week. Analysts also expect pork prices to surpass record levels in coming months.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Additional reporting by Hallie Gu in Harbin; Editing by Richard Pullin, Joseph Radford and Tom Hogue)