China – Stagnation in broiler meat and egg production

Hans-Wilhelm Windhorst - Professor emeritus and Scientific Director of the Science and Information Centre for Sustainable Poultry Production (WING), University of Vechta, Germany


In 2014, China contributed 26.3 % to global egg production and 16.7 % to poultry meat production. But in the last 2 years, a phase of stagnation or even decreasing production volumes could be observed in egg as well as in broiler meat production.

China is holding an exceptional position in global animal production. In poultry meat production it ranks second behind the USA. One has to consider, however, that it is very difficult to put together a reliable database as the available official data and the FAO data differ considerably.

Stagnation in laying hen husbandry and egg production
The data for the laying hen inventory in the official Chinese Agricultural Statistics and the data published by FAO are twice as high as the data of the International Egg Commission (IEC, London). The reason may be that in both statistics pullets are counted as laying hens.

The IEC data are available to the author and make sense in combination with egg production data. Therefore, these data will be used in this analysis.

The numbers in Table 1 show the considerable fluctuation of inventory data in the analysed time period. This is due to the fact that outbreaks of Avian Influenza resulted in decreasing laying hen flocks. In addition, in the past two years, hatching eggs were scarce and a lower per capita consumption caused a decreasing domestic demand. One has to consider, however, that the inventory data are partly estimated by representatives of the egg industry and then reported to the IEC.

TABLE 1 China – broiler meat egg production

The strong fluctuations in consumption, which can be observed in the analysed time period, especially in 2012 and 2014, are result of the growing skepticism of the consumers regarding the quality and safety of animal products. This is not only the case for eggs, but also for milk products, poultry meat and pork. Analyses of food showed residues of toxic material. Many consumers, in particular in the urban agglomerations, refrained from buying these products. Growing imports were the consequence. The stagnation in the laying hen inventories is also a result of decreasing imports of grandparent stock and hatching eggs from the USA and France. When Avian Influenza outbreaks occurred in these countries in 2015 and 2016, imports were stopped immediately. Broiler production was hit even more than laying hen husbandry from the import stops.

Considerable decrease in broiler production and broiler meat consumption
Table 2 shows that similar to eggs: the total consumption of broiler meat fluctuated considerably. For 2016, a reduction of broiler meat production by 700,000 t is projected in comparison to 2015. Consumption is expected to decrease by 622,000 t between 2014 and 2016. One reason for the reduced consumption is the growing mistrust of the consumers in the quality and safety of animal products, as was already mentioned.

The considerable reduction of broiler meat production is also a result of problems in supplying broiler chicks. The scarcity is a consequence of the decreasing imports of grandparent stocks. While in 2014 1.2 million pairs of grandparents were imported, a reduction to only 500,000 pairs is expected for 2016. Because of the AI outbreaks in the USA and France, the main countries of origin, imports from these countries were stopped in 2015 respectively 2016. Imports of grandparent stock from Spain and New Zealand were not able to compensate the much lower imports. In order to fill the gap, many egg farmers began to moult their parent stock. But the laying rates of the hens are much lower in the second laying period so that the production level cannot be maintained.

If and when China will open its borders again for imports of grandparent stock and hatching eggs is a still open question. If the banning of imports will continue over the whole year of 2016, a sharp reduction of the production volume in 2017 has to be expected.

The share of the so-called white-feathered broilers (hybrid lines), they are mostly used in fast food restaurants and the processing industry, in the overall broiler meat consumption is 48 %. The yellow-feathered broilers (local breeds), which are mainly sold fresh on wet markets and in food stores, are mainly kept as backyard flocks on small farms. They cannot fill the gap resulting from the lack of white-feathered broiler chicks. Because of their poorer feed conversion (1:2.5), these breeds are hardly used in large-scale broiler growing.

TABLE 3 China – broiler meat egg productionBrazil profits from the import ban on US broiler meat
The AI outbreaks in the USA in 2015 not only had impacts on the trade with breeding stock and hatching eggs, but also on broiler meat exports to China. From the data in Table 3 one can easily see that China’s imports of broiler meat from the USA increased continuously until 2013, but then as early as 2014 showed a downward trend after the first AI outbreaks in states along the Pacific coast. China immediately stopped all imports of poultry products from the United States. In 2015, only small amounts were imported, mainly meat and bone meal.

Compared to 2013, the values of the exports fell by 152 mill. US-$ and reached a volume of only 13 mill. US-$. It is expected that China will not permit any imports of poultry products from the USA in 2016. As could be shown in another paper (Windhorst, 2016), the loss of the Chinese market in combination with the import ban of Russia has resulted in a considerable reduction of broiler meat exports.

Because of the increasing domestic demand and the import ban on U. S. broiler meat, China was forced to look for other suppliers. Brazil was the country that mainly profited from this situation. From the data in Table 4 one can see that Brazil’s broiler meat exports to China increased by more than 185,000 t between 2010 and 2015 and are projected to reach a total volume of 390,000 t. Brazil would then share 96 % of the Chinese import volume. To be able to meet such a demand, Brazil had to expand its production volume of broiler meat considerably. In addition, several new companies got licenses to export broiler meat from China.

It can be expected that China will be forced because of the growing demand for poultry meat in the next decade to either increase domestic production or imports. According to the OECD-FAO projection regarding the development of production and demand between 2014 and 2024, production will increase by 4.86 mill. t and demand by 5.15 mill. t. This would result in a deficit of about 300,000 t.

As the projection does not distinguish between the various poultry meat types, it is difficult to calculate how much will have to be contributed by broiler meat. When taking the shares of the three most important poultry meat types in 2013 in the total production volume, the projected contribution of broiler would have to be 70 % or 210,000 t. How much of this supply deficit will have to be imported in addition to domestic production cannot be decided at the moment as there is no projection available from Chinese officials regarding the domestic production volume. 

Data sources and additional references are available on request