China promised to consider lifting its zero-tolerance policy on ractopamine residues in pork and beef as part of the “phase one” trade pact, and the country is making good on that, although more work needs to be done, says USDA Trade Undersecretary Ted McKinney.

“China is moving forward on this,” said McKinney, who participated in the webinar “How pork exports can save your bacon,” hosted by Agri-Pulse Thursday. “They are dutifully going through the process. We have provided information in a very timely matter as it has been asked of us.”

Much of that information has come from Elanco, maker of the beta-agonist that it says “enables farmers to safely produce more pork with greater efficiency and allows them to feed more people while using fewer natural resources and generating less animal waste.”

While U.S. processors like Tyson Foods are discontinuing use of the growth-promoting ractopamine, it is still commonly used and countries like China have banned meat from animals that have been treated with it.

But China agreed to rethink that ban as part of the “phase one” deal that was implemented in February. The deal states that “in consultation with U.S. experts, China shall conduct a risk assessment for ractopamine in cattle and swine as soon as possible without undue delay.”

And McKinney stressed that China, as it rebuilds its swine herd after a massive outbreak of African swine fever, is likely considering lifting that ban for its own production purposes — not just to make the U.S. happy.

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“If they are truly moving to the large, modern barns in a system much like we see in the U.S. today, that makes the management of that (swine herd) a great deal easier,” he said. “Add to that, it seems like they would want to be very efficient with their … feed and livestock.”

Meanwhile, China’s rebuilding of its pork production system is happening fast, according to a Foreign Agricultural Service analysis. Production and slaughter this year will be at record lows, but 2021 will be a year of quickened recovery, according to the FAS report out of Beijing.

“Robust slaughter in 2021 will drive pork production up to 41.5 million tons, (up) from the record low level of 38 million tons in 2020,” says FAS. “The 2021 ending pig inventory is forecast up at 370 million head, equivalent to over 80% of pre-ASF levels.”

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