Major pig-farm operators have launched emergency measures to shield consumers from the "Mexican flu" outbreak.
The government and concerned Thai agencies have imposed additional protection measures to prevent the possible spread of the swine-flu virus. It has been suggested that the government should also provide more details of the disease for better public understanding.
Nopporn Vayuchote, executive vice president of Betagro Group, said yesterday that emergency measures had been implemented at the group's farm since yesterday. For instance, workers who catch a cold or have a fever are not allowed to work in the farm. In addition, the group has upped its concentration on a stringent biosecurity system.
Major pig-farming provinces in Thailand are Ratchaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Kanchanaburi, Chon Buri and Chachoengsao. The country's pig production is 12 million animals per year with a value of Bt70 billion. Seventy per cent of the production is managed under closed-operation farms.
The group's pork business accounts for 4 per cent of its sales and export volumes reached an average of 8,000 tonnes per year.
Nopporn said the swine-flu outbreak would not affect the company's exports because they are processed products.
Damnoen Chaturavittawong, senior executive vice president of swine business at Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF), said the company had suddenly stopped getting both foreign and local guests visiting its pig farms.
"We undertake high farming standards all the time. Officials from the Livestock Development Department always inspect our farms. In addition, we strictly have health checks of all workers who take care of the farms," Samnoen said, adding that workers with even a slight fever are not allowed to enter the farm.
However, the price of a live pig at the farm door remained unchanged at Bt60 per kilogram yesterday, due to an earlier sharp decline in piglet numbers.
Despite the Mexican flu outbreak, the Internal Trade Department reported yesterday that the price of pork had increased continuously this month following a lower number of piglets being bred and high feed-meal costs.
Pork is quoted at Bt120-Bt135 a kilo at the fresh market, 15-20 per cent higher than the same period last year, when it was Bt113.
The higher pork price was due mainly to lower numbers of piglets and high costs of feeding, said Yangyong Phuangrach, director-general of the Internal Trade Department.
"Although the pork price is high at present, the price is expected to drop slightly soon due to a greater supply of pigs after the dry season," he said.
Yangyong explained that the domestic pork price should not drop dramatically because of the fear of a swine-flu outbreak overseas, as 100 per cent of the nation's pigs are fed in the country.
According to the department, swine-feeding is expected to drop from 11.7 million pigs to 11.4 million this year. Normally, Thais consume 10 million to 10.5 million pigs per year, while the remainder are exported.
The cost of pork feed is 20-30 per cent higher than the same period last year.
To increase understanding of the swine life cycle among the public and ensure fair prices for consumers, the Internal Trade Department will tomorrow meet with the Swine Raisers Association and retailers to discuss the price structure of pork.
Meanwhile, the outbreak is benefiting other meat producers. Prices suddenly increased yesterday as consumers panicked about the safety of pork.
Nopporn said the price of chicks had abruptly increased by Bt1 per animal yesterday. Other kinds of meat are expected to see adjusted prices as consumers shift to what they perceive as safe foods. Chicken was quoted at Bt56-Bt58 per kilo last week, but was adjusted to Bt58-Bt60 yesterday.
Thanawat Polwichai, director of the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce's Economic and Business section, said yesterday that the Mexican flu would have an adverse impact on Thailand's exports and tourism industry as the outbreak areas are restricted.
"Some tourists might now travel, but it will not be serious," he said.
Segsarn TraiUkos, business development director at CenCar, the operator of Carrefour hypermarket, said the company expected no impact based on the evidence so far.
Hygiene is the first priority for our fresh-food products, including pork meat, which have been totally sourced from closed-operation farms in Thailand, Segsarn said.
"We never import pork meat from the US or parts of America where the flu has been reported. Also, we have imported pork sausages from France," he said.
Sukiet Kittitammachote, general manager at Central Food Retail, the operator of Tops Supermarket, said the company had not seen any negative feedback from shoppers.
Like other retailers, pork meat available at all Tops Supermarket outlets have been supplied by local farms, which raise their pigs in a closed environment.
"We have no plan at this moment to communicate with our customers about the issue. However, we will monitor them very closely," Sukiet said.
Shares of Thai Union Frozen Products, the world's second-biggest canner of tuna, and poultry producer GFPT climbed in Bangkok on speculation that an outbreak of swine flu will boost demand for alternatives to pork products, according to Capital Nomura Securities.