Taipei, Feb. 28 (CNA) Amid a months-long epidemic of young swine that has left pork prices at a ten-year high, the Council of Agriculture (COA) on Friday said it will urge farmers to resume selling their piglets instead of waiting for prices to climb higher. Porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) has devastated Taiwan's swine population since October, causing the market price of a piglet to skyrocket to NT$79.71 (US$2.63) per kilogram as of Thursday, breaking the previous record of NT$77.25 per kg set on July 28, 2008. The figure is even higher when frozen pork products are taken out of the picture, standing at a 10-year high of more than NT$80 per kg in some markets. As a result, a number of farmers have chosen to hold onto piglets over the standard sale weight of 120 kg in the hopes that prices will go even higher, with the COA saying that some farmers were continuing to sit on pigs of 130 kg. The COA urged them to reconsider, citing its efforts to put an extra 24,200 piglets on the market next month to stabilize supplies, and warning that a continued unwillingness to sell could cause the price of pork, a major meat in Taiwan, to jump on short supply by the time the Ghost Festival rolls around on Aug. 10. State-run Taiwan Sugar Corp. has agreed to sell piglets weighing less than 115 kg to help adjust supplies ahead of the nearest holiday, the Dragon Boat Festival on June 2, the COA said.
An encouraging sign is that the number of pigs succumbing to PED seems to be on the decline -- at least according to official numbers.
The COA said that only 40,000 piglets died of the disease this month, down from the peak of 70,000 in January.
Friday's announcement did not, however, address a report in Friday's United Daily News accusing the government of a slow response to the epidemic and under-reporting the number of swine deaths. The latest COA figures showed that 210,200 piglets died from PED between October and last Tuesday, but the newspaper estimated the number is closer to 300,000 as many farmers have not reported infections because PED is not listed as a legal communicable disease, leaving the government unable to assess and control the situation. (By Yang Shu-ming and Maia Huang)