US seizes 1 million pounds of smuggled Chinese pork

A pig statue at the entrance of a restaurant at Daikanyama district in Tokyo. (Reuters pic)

CHIGAGO: US federal agents seized 1 million pounds (454 metric tonnes) of pork smuggled from China to a port in New Jersey amid fears the meat could contain traces of the African swine fever virus that has ravaged the Asian country’s hog herd.

The bust marks the the largest-ever seizure of agricultural products in the US, according to Anthony Bucci, public affairs specialist at US Customs and Border Protection. The pork arrived in more than 50 shipping containers over the past few weeks to the port in Newark, hidden in containers of ramen noodles and laundry detergent, he said.

“At this point, it’s an ongoing investigation,” Bucci said by telephone, adding that the customs agency is working with the US Department of Agriculture.

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Humans can’t be infected, but pig populations can be wiped out by African swine fever. China’s hog herd – the biggest in the world – has plummeted as farmers cull inflicted animals.

The US has never had African swine fever, and officials are stepping up efforts to keep the disease out.

Any sign of illness stateside could mean that pork buyers start banning American exports at a time when producers are already suffering from Chinese tariffs.

Meat products, and even some animal feed, can carry the virus, for which there is no vaccine.

Hog prices traded in Chicago have jumped on speculation that China’s herd culling will force the nation to import more American pork. June futures soared 11% in the week ended Friday, a record gain for the contract. Shares of meat producers also climbed.