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Meat imports to climb on foot-and-mouth cull

Pork and beef imports by Korea, the sixth-biggest buyer of U.S. pork in 2009, may climb this year as the nation culls swine and cattle to fight its worst outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, an industry group said.

Pork imports may jump 15 percent to 20 percent from about 179,500 metric tons in 2010, said Choi Jong Sun, chairman of the Korea Meat Import Association. Beef purchases may also gain as importers hold low inventories after deferring imports last year on high prices, he said by phone, without giving a forecast.

The fifth-largest buyer of U.S. beef and veal in 2009 is destroying about 2.3 million animals, mostly swine and cattle, or about 17 percent of herds, in its biggest cull. U.S. cattle futures jumped to a record on Jan. 18 and hog prices have gained on speculation that demand for U.S. meat exports will increase.

“Pork-import volume will rise inevitably,” Choi, who has been in the industry for about 25 years, said. “We expect to see bigger replacement demand for pork than for beef because simply too many pigs have been culled,” he said.

Hogs for April were little changed at 86.30 cents a pound on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange at 10:12 a.m. in Seoul, while cattle for April lost 0.3 percent to $1.1285 a pound. The cattle price touched $1.166 a pound on Jan. 18, the highest level since the commodity began trading on the exchange in 1964.

The outbreak, the fifth in Korea since 2000, has affected swine most and led to the cull of 2.1 million animals, or about 22 percent of herds, according to agriculture ministry data. About 4 percent of local cattle have been destroyed.

Wholesale prices for pork jumped 51 percent to 6,574 won ($5.90) per kilogram as of Jan. 19 from the December average of 4,344 won, while beef gained about 2 percent, farm ministry data show. Retail prices for pork increased about 8 percent, while beef fell 12 percent.

“Meat demand may come down a bit temporarily due to the effect of the outbreak,” Choi said. “In the longer term, however, we don’t think it will have much impact.”

Since the outbreak was reported in November, the virus has spread to seven cities and provinces, bringing total confirmed cases to 124 and affecting 4,405 farms, farm ministry data show.

Foot-and-mouth is one of the most contagious livestock diseases, with high mortality rates in young animals, according to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health. The virus, which affects cloven-hoofed animals such as cattle, swine and sheep, can cause foot lesions, weight loss and permanently reduce milk production in cows. It does not affect human beings.