Beef, pork prices rise due to foot-and-mouth virus

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Beef, pork prices rise due to foot-and-mouth virus

The government has raised the alert for foot-and-mouth disease to its highest level after a fourth farm tested positive, which has caused the prices of beef and pork to rise and further burden Koreans who are already faced with high egg and poultry prices in the aftermath of the recent bird flu outbreak.

According to the Korea Institute for Animal Products Quality Evaluation on Friday, the prices for beef and pork has risen by 9 to 10 percent compared to the end of last month.

The wholesale price of hanwoo, a type of premium Korean beef, was at 15,653 won per kilogram ($6.19 per pound) on Jan. 31. That has risen to 17,242 won as of Wednesday, four days after the foot-and-mouth outbreak began.

The wholesale price of pork has gone up from 4,329 won to 4,757 won during the same period.

The retail price of beef and pork sold at major discount stores has not changed, but the higher wholesales price is likely to be reflected at retail stores next week. One of the biggest retail chains, E-Mart, usually adjusts its meat prices every Thursday.

The bigger concern is the likely impact on pork prices, which are heavily dependent on the domestic market compared to beef. While over half the beef supplied in the local market is imported, roughly 90 percent of the pork sold here is from local farms.

During the nation’s worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, between 2010 and 2011, pork prices surged by over 40 percent.

There have been growing concerns over the impact this might have on average households, which are already facing higher prices of other food products, particularly poultry.

Major retailers, including E-Mart and Lotte Mart, raised chicken prices by 5 to 6 percent earlier this week, to more than 5,000 won per kilogram. Homeplus is also considering raising its chicken prices. The wholesale price of live chicken as of Tuesday was 1,992 won per kilogram, whereas on Dec. 22, before the outbreak of bird flu, it was 888 won per kilogram.

Additionally, while egg prices has been easing largely thanks to imports that arrived around the Lunar New Year holidays last month, they remain relatively high. The price of 30 eggs as of Wednesday was 8,107 won, compared to 9,499 won on Jan. 18 before imported eggs arrived. But before the outbreak of bird flu, the cost was about 6,000 won.

The recent concern comes as the foot-and-mouth virus that has been confirmed in three of the farms was type O, whereas the farm in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi, was shown to have type A, a rare strain.

This was the first time two different strains of the virus have emerged simultaneously.

Although type A and type O occurred during Korea’s worst foot-and-mouth outbreak between 2010 and 2011, which is estimated to have resulted in an economic loss of 3 trillion won, type O only began to spread after type A had swept the country.

There was no simultaneous infection at the time.

Also, as most of cases in the past were type O, there is little information on type A.

Since the recent outbreak only happened on cattle and diary farms, government containment efforts can be undermined if the infection spreads to pig farms, as pigs are more vulnerable to the disease than cows.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, among cows that received vaccination, 97.5 percent were able to create antibodies, while in among pigs that figure drops to 75.7 percent.

BY LEE HO-JEONG[lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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