Chicken prices are surging as consumers try to substitute poultry for pork and Chinese farmers cull pig herds to combat a nationwide outbreak of African swine fever. But Chinese shoppers who hope to use poultry meat as an affordable alternative to pork may be disappointed given that chickens remain in short supply, industry insiders and analysts said. China has faced a chicken shortage since 2016 and the scarcity could get worse this year, driving up the price of chicken meat in the months ahead, according to Gao Xiang, an analyst with Sublime China Information SCI, one of China’s largest information providers for the country’s commodity market. China relies on imported breeding stock for production of white-feathered broiler chickens which are bred and raised specifically for meat production, which account for more than half the country’s chicken supply. The country has so far been unsuccessful in developing its own white-feather pedigree lines. Poultry imports from the United States and France have been banned in China since 2016 in the wake of a bird flu outbreak in those countries in December 2014. The ban has produced a sharp drop in the supply of white-feather “grandparent” stock. According to official data, total output of live chickens on the mainland has dropped from around 6 billion birds in 2016 to 5.72 billion in 2017 and 4.16 billion last year. Production is expected to drop at least another 10 per cent this year, Gao said. The national average wholesale price of chicken meat increased 10.86 yuan (US$1.61) per kilogram this week, up more than 68 per cent from March of 2018, according to an SCI report. In Beijing, broilers were selling at 14 yuan per kilogram at Xinfadi, Beijing’s largest food wholesale market, up 27 per cent from February’s price. But we are not optimistic for the chicken market because costs are soaring for day-old chicks and feed also. Chicken salesman Industry insiders expect both day-old chicks and chicken meat to become more expensive in the coming months, as people increasingly buy chicken because of sharply rising pork prices. “But we are not optimistic for the chicken market because costs are soaring for day-old chicks and feed also,” said a salesman at the Wanjia Nongye chicken farm in Guangzhou in southern China’s Guangdong province. African swine fever, which is deadly to pigs but not harmful to humans, has now spread to all Chinese provinces since the first case was confirmed in August, posing a serious threat to the hog industry and raising concerns about a jump in consumer inflation. China raises about half the world’s pigs, and the spread of African swine fever is significantly disrupting the country’s pork supply. Financial services firm Rabobank estimated that up to 200 million pigs – nearly half the number in China – could be culled or die from the disease during the epidemic, saying there was not enough pork in “the whole world combined” to fill the potential supply shortfall in China.