According to Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development statistics, in the first four months of the year imports of pork and pork products rose 6.7 times from the same period last year to $23.58 million.
The sharp rise coincides with the discovery of African swine fever, a viral disease that infects pigs and has a 100 percent mortality rate, in Vietnam in early February.
Now pork products from countries such as the U.S., Poland, Spain, Germany, Hungary, and Canada are available in the market at just VND80,000-120,000 ($3-5) per kilogram, making some of them even cheaper than Vietnamese products.
The owner of a pork importing store in Ho Chi Minh City's Go Vap District said demand for foreign pork has increased significantly since the African swine fever outbreak, with both restaurants and retail customers preferring imports to domestic pork.
"While imported pork prices are steady, domestic pork prices fluctuate and availability is not guaranteed," the owner said, adding that his imported pork stocks have doubled compared to three months ago.
Hoa, the owner of another imported food store in the city’s Binh Thanh District, agreed that there is growing demand for imported products, with American and Canadian pork being the most popular at his store.
The number of customers buying pork has been increasing consistently in the past three months, with many restaurants doubling their orders, he said.
But despite being affected by African swine fever, Vietnam's pork exports too have remained robust, rising by 1.8 times in the first four months of the year to $24.8 million.
Animal husbandry experts believe however that exports are stalling as African swine fever continues to spread. Several countries and territories have banned imports from Vietnam, with Taiwan, the U.S., Japan, Australia and others slapping heavy fines on anyone found passing through immigration with pork or pork products from Vietnam.
Since pork prices have been fluctuating, authorities have asked food companies to stockpile the meat, which is expected to reduce exports.
As of Tuesday African swine fever had spread to 55 out of Vietnam's 63 provinces and cities with over 2.2 million infected pigs culled, causing losses of VND3.6 trillion.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has ordered severe penalties for anyone trying to subvert efforts to contain it, saying "fighting African swine fever is like fighting invaders."
Vietnam has the seventh largest number of pigs in the world, 30 million, and is the sixth largest pork producer. Pig farming provides a livelihood to 2.4 million households, according to official figures.
Pork makes up 70 percent of the average Vietnamese diet. The Ministry of Industry and Trade is looking at frozen pork supplies as a fail-safe plan for a possible shortage.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has warned people not to expand their herds of pigs and advised them to switch to others like buffalos, cows and poultry or aquaculture.
The latest data from the World Organization for Animal Health shows 13 countries and territories are suffering from new or ongoing outbreaks of the disease: Belgium, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, mainland China, Hong Kong, North Korea, Vietnam, and South Africa.
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