Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
One-quarter of the world’s pigs died in a year due to swine fever in China (nytimes.com)
349 points by vo2maxer 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 296 comments

Funny to see this finally making mainstream news and the front page of HN. I worked as a research analyst at a long/short equities fund and one of the biggest bets we placed was based on ASF. The sell side was completely complacent about this, but we were tracking the disease closely and the math was undeniable - this was going to be a major, major disruption in global protein markets.

Bullets of the thesis were:

- African Swine Fever in China is putting half the global supply of hogs at risk.

- It will take years for China to get a handle on the disease.

- This will cause prices of pork in China to rise. China will have to import pork to fill the hole in order to avoid a political crisis.

- As a result, global proteins will enter a multi-year up-cycle. All proteins (beef, chicken, pork) will benefit.

This structural thesis could be played many, many ways.

FYI, imports of all proteins in China is heavily regulated despite the claims of opposite.

Effectively, import permits are issued per-country, and can be withdrawn on a whim to keep agrarian lobbies on their toes in exporter countries. That is done through sanitary and food safety permits.

Current sky high prices may well be because you got a counterintuitive reaction from permitting officials, and they will fall again once they will ease on imports.

China been historically edgy on imports of pork, and most private importers specialise on beef and chicken instead.

>import permits are issued per-country

It is even worst than that, it is not even issued per country or per company, it is per Plant basis. Along with other regulation hurdles. So you end up with news about China opening up to certain countries for import but then not issued a single license permit of any plant for years.

But despite all of these, the still allow proteins via unofficial channels. The word "Allow" here means they knew about it, but they turn a blind eye to it.

> they knew about it, but they turn a blind eye to it.

and this is how those connected people make money.


Ok so China pork policy experts are here in the thread. Does this strike anyone else as a bit odd?

LOL, not really, we have many others on HN working in FoodTech, and AgriTech as well. The diversity of people on HN is quite amazing, from working in Nuclear research to Doctor and Chemist. I remember there was a Web Developers but part time Chef and Restaurant owner.

I've come to accept the fact that if you post some random topic in HN, within 24 hours an expert in the field will be in it if it starts to get a lot of traffic.

A recent one that comes to mind is a thread that was talking about nuclear reactors, within a few hours (I think within the first hour) someone that actually designs nuclear reactors for a living was in the thread clearing up misconceptions and answering questions.

Yes, there are people who are involved in pork & policy, and also like the scan HN :)

Fitting username :^]

As someone not in the financial world, this is one of the few times equities research has mad sense to me. It's still a bet but having that kind of research to bet off of is really interesting. Another time was that article about measuring the shadows of tankers carrying oil outside of port.

I appreciate the insight.

I don’t know if this comment is too basic, but if you appreciate this type of speculation/investment, you’d be interested in the world of macro investing, short for macroeconomic. It’s all about looking at big global trends and then figuring out how to translate those into investments/bets.

My goodness, but Macrovoices by Erik Townsend is GREAT. Macrovoices.com Ignore the latest episode with Pippa Malmgren, but it has a ton of macro insights that lay people can understand; while not being too basic.

This was also the first thing I thought of recommending but I was worried it required too much background knowledge in economics.

One caveat though is global macro is notoriously difficult.

Even when you think all signs point to a conclusion - think “peak oil hypothesis” something can come out of the moon that changes all your hypothesis, ruining your funds return easily.

Any resources (blogs, podcasts) suitable for laypeople?

You could like at the website of Bridgewater Associates, a big macro hedge fund, though they obviously don't publish most things.

Read Liar Poker, Michael Lewis's expose of Wall Street in the 80s.

One sterling example of what makes a great trader came when he was woken up to news of Chernobyl. Like most people aware of the disaster, he was thinking in terms of fear, long term effects of radiation and nuclear anxiety. His trader friend called him with a tip to buy potatoes. He called back to say also diapers.

The trader correctly identified market trends in reaction to both nuclear radiation on global food stocks, and human behavior aggregates to nuclear anxiety (which in 9 months leads to higher demand for diapers).

It's a state of mind not entirely human, but understanding human behavior.

> human behavior aggregates to nuclear anxiety (which in 9 months leads to higher demand for diapers).

Is this real? Similar claims were made about a baby bump around June 2002 (9 months after 9/11), but nothing happened [1].

[1] https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/baby-boom-3/

Read the blogs and articles published by AQR.

While not exclusively macro, the podcast Econtalk regularly explores macroeconomic issues. https://www.econtalk.org/

The host has a libertarian bias but is pretty upfront about it so you know where he's coming from. I don't agree with him on everything but his podcast is almost always interesting.

Could you link me to the article about the oil tankers?

https://fortune.com/2017/12/16/satellites-commodity-trading-... It's been awhile and I can't find the original but this one is pretty close.

> Funny to see this finally making mainstream news.

So disappointing to see the top comment is an outright lie. This story has been covered by the mainstream media since 2018. What's even more worrying is this guy is giving investment advice to naive commenters who know no better.




I didn't give investment advice to anyone. That's the outright lie.

In this comment thread.

dman 1 day ago [-]

Any examples of how a retail investor would play this?


xwowsersx 1 day ago [-]

Buy TSN, SAFM, HRL...but it's probably too late at this point. We were placing bets on this 18 months ago.

"Buy TSN, SAFM, HRL" sounds like an investment advice. Not only that your top level comment is investment advice as well, even if it doesn't directly mention an instrument or stock to invest in.

You're just being uncharitable. I was explaining how the thesis would be expressed. It should go without saying (!), but I made it clear in other comments that I wasn't advising on anything. If you make investment decisions based on some short comments on HN then I have a bridge to sell you. People here are smarter than that. Nice to know you think of your HN peers as "naive". I hold them in higher esteem. Go find something else to be angry about.

I'll add onto that and the prediction for 2020's from yesterday that meat may very soon begin to price itself out of the market with meat alternatives from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, etc being first movers in this area could be a great investment over the next decade

Would love to hear an informed opinion on why meat alternatives aren't commodities.

Is what the first mover brands are doing that unreproducible?

Getting patents.

Meat replacements are already dime in a dozen, there's been a boom at least for a couple of years in Europe. Some are better than others, but none have a power to control the market. Even if a single brand will be the most popular, there definitely will be (already is!) a commodity market where people will buy a good enough meat replacement from their local grocery store. If the main ingredient is oats or fava bean is maybe akin to difference between chicken and pork.

Impossible burgers are an order of magnitude better tasting than any other meat replacement I've tried. Beyond burgers are hilariously worse.

Sure, but there's no way that would lead to market dominance. It will perhaps be the highest profit product and a market leader, but plenty of other options are good enough for a healthy market to exist.

And TBH I think the obsession with a burger replacement is some American thing, here they are used for replacing meat (mostly minced meat) in all kinds of foods. I'm not sure I've even tried a fake-meat burger yet.

I searched through a few Impossible patents as a result of this thread. They've certainly got a number.

As near as I can tell (not chemist), they're focusing their patents on (a) extractive methods (e.g. how to produce raw starting blocks from actual, grown plants) & (b) specific mixes or treatments that target the meat-analog market.

For example, a lot of their parents are of the form of "a food product with X% this, Y% that, Z% the other. Where X had a molecular weight of A and a gel point of B degrees. Where Y has..."

Where's "here"? In Switzerland you also see lots of burger replacements, imported like beyond or "homegrown" like the green mountain burger.

In the Netherlands, burgers are definitely a thing, but the ones that get people excited so far appear to have been chicken, meatballs and smoked sausage (which are traditionally important here). The introduction of the Beyond Burger made some noise, but mostly because of it being hyped in the US. It does not appear to be a regular buy, though that might be because it's also really expensive, comparatively.

All anecdotal, though.

Finland. Lots of domestic meat replacement products. I know Germany doesn't have nearly as much, but that's not too surprising as it's a slow adopter of everything.

I missed that prediction. I did however see a great article a while ago on just how cheap and efficient modern chicken production is ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JiYVoHEV5hs ). Pork is still a default ingredient in the majority of Asian dishes despite doubling in price. My prediction would be that meat alternatives will remain niche, the size of which dependent on how good their marketing turns out to be. On cost they are competing against generic engineering (and breeding) of animals and high intensity farming practices. Nobody is talking about reducing pork production in China, and it will be large pig farms replacing the devastated ones. And maybe the monster-size pig breeding initiatives will pay off. Meat consumption is a social issue, not an economic one.

Beyond and Impossible are far from first movers. Veggie burgers are for sale for at least three decades (most notably Quorn), it's just that they've managed to get VC funding and made a huge rumble about it that the US press leapt up.

As someone who's been eating these things for a long time, it's notable they made something that's actually good.

Historically, veggie burgers were terrible. Most meat eaters still love their beef, but most of my friends actually like Beyond Burgers and get them not because they care about the environment or animal rights, but simply because they like the taste and want something beside a beef burger for a change.

I'm not saying it can't be replicated. I have no idea how well these companies will hold their share in the future. If I had to bet, I'd bet that McDonald's and Burger King and Wendy's will all make their own version, and Kraft or Frito Lay will make one for supermarkets, too.

But the market has definitely changed with the newer burgers. They're actually good now!

I have the opposite reaction. In the old McDonald’s veggie burger, the main ingredients are peas, carrots, onions and potatoes. In an Impossible Burger the main ingredient is “textured wheat protein”. I would much rather have the old-school veggie burger which has the virtue of being made of stuff that sounds like real food.


While they don't begin to approximate beef, I've tried these two recipies and like them



For health reasons I've spent the past year trying to give up meat and other animal products, to eat whole food plant based, and I've found every approximation of meat to just be blah and have just given up trying to recreate meat and instead have just found other things to make, but you can make a pretty good sandwich out of a bean-based pattie.

These franken-creations like the impossible buger just seem like a bad idea. They use a lot of extracts/refined stuff, which means you've got some amount of waste, and all the added cost of refining the ingredients and processing the patties and you still don't come close to re-creating a good seasoned beef patty.

A lot of people simply want to switch due to the environmental impact but take the first four impossible burger ingredients list :

- Water

- Textured Wheat Protein -

- Coconut Oil

- Potato Protein

3 of the 4 ingredients require a lot of processing, two of those are made from crops that are able to be farmed in a fairly sustainable fashion. The coconut oil however, at a scale required to replace beef, would likely quickly become unsustainable like palm oil is.

A single coconut only provides about 2 ounces of oil... it might be better than raising cattle but just eating beans, or whole wheat, would probably be orders of magnitude better.

Beef is BY FAR one of the least sustainable sources of food we eat. Lamb, to my knowledge, is the only thing worse, and the two are so much worse than everything else, nothing is even close.

Coconuts would be literally 100 times better than beef. Not to mention, coconut oil makes up less than 8% of the total burger. So, even if it was hypothetically worse (which it's not even close) the other 92% being exponentially better would far outweigh it.

>Coconuts would be literally 100 times better than beef.

And having something other than beef or fake-beef is better yet... which is what my comment is... finding alternatives to hamburgers instead of trying to recreate a hamburger by playing Doctor Frankenstein.

> Most meat eaters still love their beef, but most of my friends actually like Beyond Burgers and get them not because they care about the environment or animal rights, but simply because they like the taste and want something beside a beef burger for a change.

Seconded. They're the same price in Canada and the taste of the Beyond patties is often better than the meat ones. It's a good change of pace if I'm not seeing pure protein (in which case whey powder is probably better anyway).

Partner works in export for a massive pork producer.

From what they are saying internally this is/will continue to be a huge shift in the market, the Chinese importers are paying way more generally and even for the parts that the European market doesn't use directly for human consumption.

>Massive Pork Producer

I am going to guess Danish Crown?

Chinese has always been buying in qualities that exceeds any supply capacity. And that was before ASF, after that they try to contain it, as well as opening up more Brazilian Pork Import. While xwowsersx was genius in placing the bet 18 months ago, the price / tonne wasn't so clear* until close to mid 2019 when everything went out of hand.

* It wasn't clear because despite raising prices, pork prices ( Brazilian ) has been trading at a ridiculously low level since ~2015.

Profile says North of England, does Danish Crown have anything in Britain?

Yes: Danish Crown Ltd 57 Stanley Rd, Whitefield, Manchester M45 8GZ, United Kingdom +44 161 766 1144 https://goo.gl/maps/Bj3XfG6vZN7iELSr5


Danish Crown UK Ltd


Sales to retailers, meat processors, wholesalers, foodservice, independent retailers and butcher shops.

Production of premium hand salted Danish bacon and bespoke foodservice pork and beef.

Nationwide distribution.


Cured pork (gammon and bacon), pork, beef, chicken, lamb, burgers and sausages.

thanks, couldn't find anything from their website.

Are pigs still a source of pharmaceutical insulin?

Edit: > Insulin can be made from the pancreas of pigs or cows. Human versions can be made either by modifying pig versions or recombinant technology.


It’s made in a bioreactor these days using ecoli or yeast.

They are still the source of some thyroid medications. The synthetics are preferred but not everyone responds well.

Interesting, I always thought it was a drug produced in a lab from other chemicals.

Insulin is an enormous and complex molecule. Biological syntheses (originally from animals, now from GMO bacteria) are preferred.

It used to be horse-derived humulin.

> It will take years for China to get a handle on the disease.

Is this an issue with everyone? Or China in particular due to incompetence?

China in particular due to the lack of a free media. Pork is an important staple in China, so politicians chose to suppress the bad news about the hog supply which limited the information available to farmers to make changes to mitigate the damage being wrought by ASF. If Chinese farmers had access to more information more quickly, the crisis would be nowhere near as severe as it has become.

Once again another example of how Freedom of Speech is a foundational value of immense importance and should only be violated if there are extremely good reasons for doing so (and the vast majority of the time there are not).

>should only be violated if there are extremely good reasons for doing so

I'm sure the Party thought they had a good reason.

In fact, I'd think everyone who ever suppresses speech thinks their reason for doing it is a good one.

> I'm sure the Party thought they had a good reason.

They did, and it’s one of the key reasons centrally planned economies always fail (really their resistance to failure is only determined by their people’s endurance for suffering). In a free market, value is set by supply and demand, bad decisions and bad ideas don’t survive, and you have some reasonably decent metrics to measure success. In a planned economy, value is set by the planning committee. As a decision maker in such a system, your value is determined by how successful you are at convincing those higher up the chain that you have good ideas and make good decisions. Every decision maker in the chain of command is incentivized to lie to their superiors, and the ultimate authority is incentivized to lie to the public. Small failures and course corrections are not possible under such a system, so for a failure to be acknowledged, it has to overcome the ability of the person who’s responsible for it to conceal it. It becomes essential for anybody with any power to control the “truth”.

You can see the same dynamics at play in any sufficiently large organisation (generally scaling proportional to the slowing feedback loop between decision and outcome, and with any form of complexity that would obscure the direct relationship between decision and outcome), though usually on a much smaller scale. China allows enough free market activity to take place to allow it to survive, but you can see the failures of its planning committees everywhere.

> Pork is an important staple in China

Indeed. For reference, pork in China is usually just referred to as "meat".

It took me a while to figure out why one of my favorite Chinese dish, 卤肉饭 aka Lu Rou Fan, directly translated into "braised meat rice" when in english it's always "minced pork rice"

WTF. This crisis has been openly discussed in China from the very beginning. And yes pork price has been going up steadily , but there was no such thing as political crisis. I mean China is not angel but it is absurd to smear China with nonsenses like this.

So is it your view that the Chinese government has done a good job of handling the crisis?

Can you read? In what way did I hint that?

It's a perfectly legitimate question. You present yourself as someone who knows what is going on in the country, so what do you think? My guess is you avoided answering the question because you know it has screwed up badly, and don't want to admit it.

If you were not implying that the Chinese government has handled the ASF badly, your question should be: "How do you feel about the action the government takes?", instead of asking if the OP supports the government.

The Chinese government maybe evil, but it's NOT stupid and they do not hate piggies. Besides, you can say that pork is the most popular meat supply in China, but it's not like that the Chinese would die without pork, chickens and beef are both fine protein supplies. Please don't attach everything that happened in China to politics.

You're right, I should have made that my question.

The article explained why the crisis is much worse than it would have been if the government had acted wisely. If you disagree, then present some specific arguments, not just the vague, general one that the Chinese government is not stupid and so therefore it must have acted wisely.

"Please don't attach everything that happened in China to politics" But the article was about governmental action.

But I am going to assume you know all that and you have avoided a discussion of specifics because you know that it indeed did screw up.

"Please don't attach everything that happened in China to politics" But the article was about governmental action. So what you are trying to do is divert attention away from the government's action. My observation is in the last year or so at HN, that has become the standard tactic for China government defenders.

"This crisis has been openly discussed in China from the very beginning." and "but there was no such thing as political crisis."

implying the usual Chinese Government stupidity isn't happening.

can you lend any references to that open discussion? That's definitely worth checking out to stack up against the other claim.

Checkout all the threads @ 知乎, China's Quora. And it's been all over China's news and social media since the beginning.


I'd like to see some objective analysis and references to back up this claim.

I read an article that people are purposefully spreading ASF in China to increase the price of pork. Is there any truth to this?

there have been credible reports in China of Chinese farmers using drones to spread ASF for various reasons, so yes

Holy hell. I'd love to understand why.. could you dig up where you read that?

I wonder if it was affected farmers keeping their competitors from getting a leg up, or some flavor of domestic terrorism.

It's a problem for China because something like 50% of their pork production (maybe more) comes from backyard farms which do not have the biotech and other safety measures in place to contain the disease.

Yes, this is what I have heard from experts. An interesting example of the value of ‘big food’ having the heft to hire reams of PhDs to solve problems like this.

And a rash of black market antibiotic use.

Huh. I've been reading about this in the mainstream news for a long time.

While we're here, did you leave tofu off of your proteins list? China is already one of the the fastest growing markets for it.

Interesting. I've never heard it in conversations about global proteins. I understand it's growing, but how big is the market currently in tons p.a.? Does it compete with the other proteins? Who are the major (public) players in the space?

Tofu does not transport well, but the soybeans it's made from do, and China is a massive importer from both the US and Brazil.

Aren't a lot of the soy beans used for animal (pig) feed?

In the US, yes, but China uses a lot of soybeans directly as food (tofu, soymilk, countless fermented bean pastes and sauces). Can't find any stats though.

I guess the parents point might be that the price of soy bean then wouldn't have been a good bet, because any benefits from the shortage of animal proteins would surely have been un-done by the fact much less feed would have been purchased (for obvious reasons)? Demand may not really have risen.

My point was that market research that leaves off popular human protein sources is probably a bad idea.

I don't have a prediction if that will make total soybean consumption go up or down in this scenario. Substitution effects can be extremely difficult to predict.

I seem to recall China aiming to be self-sufficient when it comes to soybeans meant for human consumption. Imports from countries such as Brazil are mainly used as animal feed and source of oil. I wouldn't be surprised if this disruption was also seen in the Amazon.

I thought you were tuned into expert research on this topic? Does the financial press really ignore the tofu market?!

Don't know what the financial press talks about, but just because they talk about it doesn't mean it's something investable for every particular fund. The fund I worked for has certain limitations because of how much capital we invest so we need to find large companies whose stocks trade a certain $mm/day, etc.

There are probably a few people in this thread who saw 'pork' and instantly thought 'commodity', then extrapolated to 'soybeans'. Which doesn't sound like the game you're in based on this comment, which implies your bets were made via equities. That's not super clear from your original comment (which is neither here nor there, just saying).

Thanks for sharing though, it's quite interesting.

Ah yes, you're right. I'm so used to thinking in Equities that I assumed it was obvious. We never expressed views in the underlying commodity, always in companies that are levered to it.

I've never met a trader who ignored effects coming from things they couldn't invest in.

This would be incredibly bearish for soybean futures, no? (or at least Brazlian ones, as the US tariffs have already cratered Chinese soy imports)

Counterpoint would be that production of other proteins (beef and chicken) would increase to make up for the lost production of pork, but the arguments against that are

1. Have to look at how much feed those require vs pigs (clearly chickens require way less) and

2. Pork is a cultural thing in China. There's some substitution, but to an extent they will simply eat less protein in absolute terms.

These were the kinds of things we thought a lot about. Had to think through this very carefully.

Why do you call „meat“ „protein“?

Just habit. Beef, chicken and pork are collectively referred to as "proteins" within the investment community/people who follow Ag and Food companies.

That's what restaurants (behind the scenes) call them, too.

I've seen them mentioned on menus under a "Proteins" heading in the context of a customizable meal.

That’s pretty common shorthand. For example, lots of people wouldn’t include fish as “meat” but would include it as a protein.

You mean because it would reduce demand for feed? I think that's right. As far as I can remember, China has to wait until ASF is completely eradicated before beginning to rebuild the herd so it's not like the lost demand from the diseased hogs is being replaced by the new herd. Also, piglets probably require less feed than the mature ones.

Yea, that's the logic. Not place for all the world's soybean based protein to go (most of it goes to pigs and chickens). Which is surprising because soybeans are way up in the past month (people hoping for tariff relief). Other shoe waiting to drop, lol.

Would you mind explaining how tariffs interact with futures prices? Naively I would think that tariff relief -> more and cheaper imports -> lower price. What am I missing?

Think of farmers in this instance as refineries that use soybean feed to convert Piglettes into Pork-Pigs. Tariff relief on USA brand soybean feed means that Chinese Piglette refineries will probably demand more of the USA brand feed than before because of the now lower price relative to other feed brands. However, at the same time, the refineries are experiencing a shortage of Piglette to mix with the imported soybean feed due to ASF and so they simply have lower feed needs/demands than before. You could make it more complicated by adding nuance like whether this will drive an increase in demand for imported pork as well which could, over time, stimulate USA/Worldwide feed demand as non-Chinese Piglette refineries expand and compete to fill the heightened demand for foreign pork (assuming things play out this way) but the overall gist is simply that there's pressure in two directions but probably not equal pressure.

> You could make it more complicated by adding nuance like whether this will drive an increase in demand for imported pork as well which could, over time, stimulate USA/Worldwide feed demand as non-Chinese Piglette refineries expand

What I find most interesting about this is that by importing pork, hypothetical China effectively imports the same quantity of American soybeans, but without paying the soybean tariff.

Sure, but much further along in the value chain.

They'd much rather be importing cobalt (soybeans) and exporting iPhones (pork).

Oh it's a tariff on soy exports, not imports. That explains it.

All protein indeed. There is a current surge for insect protein. Not that people would swap from pork to insects, it is hitting all the supply chain.

> This will cause prices of pork in China to rise. China will have to import pork to fill the hole in order to avoid a political crisis.

I see this all the time. Is there any data to suggest a political crisis is possible? China is a well controlled authoritarian country.

The history of China is a history of near constant rebellion, that is ultimately quashed by central government. They worry about rebellion, they prepare for it. the current regime was ultimately born of revolution, and any revolutionary government is constantly paranoid about counter-revolutions, it becomes part of the DNA of the ruling class to worry about this stuff.

Combine this with food riots being the fastest and oldest way to lose control, and it's remarkable you're even asking the question. It's like someone asking if the air can even be polluted, after decades of regulation have been implemented to control it. Well, yeah... just remove the regulations and see what happens.

That's quite true. There is a stereotype the Chinese people passively obey the government, no matter what it does. But if you look at the history, that is not at all the case.

In fact, from what I have read there is even a principle in Confucianism that if the people are starving and are in revolt, it means the government has mismanaged the country and has "lost the mantle of heaven" and should be replaced.

I like how all the keyboard experts pop out of the woodwork when it comes to China like for almost no other country, yet objectively they probably know the least about the country.

Nobody has talked about the mandate of heaven for at least a hundred years, orientalist historiography notwithstanding. Historically, compared to other peer societies over the same periods, China has been very stable for long periods of time. It is only in the extremely myopic recent that the so-called "developed world" has seemed more stable and prosperous, and even that's highly debatable in aspects. On the other hand, when it does happen, rebellion or discontent for basic food safety reasons has no unique Chinese angle to it because it happens all the time all over the world, so I'm not sure what there is to gain by injecting something Chinese into it, except knee-jerk ideology.

justinzollars said that there is no possibility of a political crisis because it is a well-controlled authoritarian country, and then afterburner present some reasons why the government is afraid of one, and then I supported afterburners view.

Your comment diverts the discussion away from this very important issue, which I assume was your intention.

Seems like you're the one arguing China is "special" in some way, while we're doing the opposite.

> Combine this with food riots being the fastest and oldest way to lose control

Is this true? Prompted by your phrase "any revolutionary government", I thought of three ways for a government system to gain control:

1. Winning a civil war (aka revolution).

2. Winning a war of conquest.

3. Organic development from a previous system.

Stipulating that option #3 isn't really a way to lose control, it still seems to me that #2 is probably older than #1.

What are some of these said food riots, that's a gap in my history knowledge.

Are you asking about the existence of food riots in general? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_food_riots

Feels like every generation needs to perform its coup. Once upon a time you could set your clock to whether there was a revolt going on in places like Spain or Turkey.

I just mean there could be political unrest because pork makes up a not-insignificant portion of their CPI. Point is China doesn't want a huge run-up in pork prices.

Does this mean no McRib for a few years?

McRib is how McDonald's plays the pork futures market.

Quite possibly. Although the trade war may distort the US markets enough to allow McDonalds to offer it again. It's hard to predict with Trump is going to do with the tariffs and how China responds.

Any examples of how a retail investor would play this?

Buy TSN, SAFM, HRL...but it's probably too late at this point. We were placing bets on this 18 months ago.

I have a few questions about the kind of work you do. Mostly just about how you got started and what sort of activities you perform. If you have the time, could you please contact me at skidd0 [at] skidd0 [dot] com?

Sure thing, will do later. FYI I transitioned back to software engineering so I'm no longer doing this professionally, but happy to answer any questions I can. Talk soon.

Fair enough - thanks for the pointers.


Wisdomtree ETF which tries to track US hog futures prices (with some drag)

Not to be confused with HOG which is Harley-Davidson haha

I've bought and maintained holding on LW, which is in the worldwide market of potato products (french fries, etc). Reason being people would be looking for fat substitute when meat price goes up. Restaurants will increase their fries portion to account for the decreasing meat portion.

The trend toward plant based food also helps.

Interesting thesis! We looked at the name, but never had that thesis. Maybe same could be said for CVGW (the avocado guys)?

When you look at the components of a fast food burger meal, you got: burger, bun, drink, and fries. Meat and drink stocks have been well analyzed and well brought. Bun has high substitutability and too diverse sourcing. That leaves fries. There're just a few players supplying the potato products. LW is the biggest one.

Not sure about CVGW. Might be too small a market.

One way would be to buy protein producers (e.g. Tyson) . The hard part is figuring out how much of the expected benefit is already factored into current stock prices though. As another user mentioned, this is not exactly breaking news to the investment community. Tyson for example was up 72% in 2019 (vs 32% for the SP500 and 27% for an index of consumer staples companies, of which Tyson is one)

The irony is that an increase in stock price is supposed to reflect future value (of dividends).

In this case, the 72% does not accurately reflect the increase in value, unless they almost double their dividend for quite a few years after the whole Chinese pork fiasco.

Market effect are exaggerated by investors and speculators. (Read: amplified, not fabricated [usually].)

Why should we believe that you're right and the rest of the market is wrong?

The rest of the market knows this and uses it to make money.

I am not sure what you mean in terms of someone being right and someone being wrong.

Edit: The point about future value of dividends is a common approach. My personal addition was that 72% is probably an exaggerated effect, but these kind of swings are to be expected, with later corrections. The point about irony is that when people buy shares, they follow the price of sale of one share, they don't usually try to calculate the future value of dividends. A case in point would be Amazon. However, with Amazon, people expect dividends at some unspecified point in the future.

And how much money did you invest based on that thesis?

None. The correction would not really warrant a short. And moreover it could take a long time to happen. I don't know enough about how people think about pigs to know whether to short and at what time.

Isn't Tyson a net protein destroyer? They take a larger amount of plant protein and turn it into a smaller amount of animal protein.

While in this case protein is just generic for 'meat', in the specific cast Tyson is taking plant protein that you or I cannot consume and turning it into a protein that we can eat. Does an oil refinery destroy oil? Well, I guess so, but that is not exactly the term that is commonly used to describe the refining process.

It wasn't clear to me that "protein" was generic for "meat", but in this specific case soybeans can be turned into tofu. And that's a reasonably popular protein source for humans in China -- especially if high prices of other human-consumed proteins causes product substitution.

They produce more protein than they consume. The animals convert carbohydrate to amino acids (well, the bacteria in their gut does).

They have nitrogen-fixing gut bacteria now?

No, the bacteria in the rumen convert amino acids that cows and humans can’t digest (and hence are of no nutritional value), into amino acids they can digest.[1]

Thus, they are net producers of useful amino acids.

[1] http://www.publish.csiro.au/ebook/chapter/SA0501041

That's exactly right.

I wouldn't take investment advice from strangers on the internet. Especially one so uninformed to claim "Funny to see this finally making mainstream news" or someone so shady that he'd lie on HN to get people interested in his scheme.

The ASF and china's pig issue has been known for since 2018. Unless the economist, bloomberg, washingtonpost, etc are not mainstream.





Buy an index fund.

Do you think you can compete with that big investment outfit that has people working on this stuff full time?

Sure I can compete. I don't have so much money under my control that my act of buying/selling changes the market. Thus I can afford to make trades that are worth a lot of money on my scale, but not worth it for the big guys because compared to the total amount they must work with means they don't have the time.

Note I said can. Reading the 10k and 8q and other such forms to find those opportunities is boring. I get paid very well to write software instead and just let an index fund grow my money. I can't live off my investments yet, but when they grow enough I'll be able to [substitute any of a number of hobbies I might get interested in], and it won't be a full time job moving money around.

"not worth it for the big guys"

Sounds like a legit strategy, but it also sounds like part of it is actively not competing with them.

If that's how you define it, then it was never the question to begin with. Someone just asked how to move on this info, which, we now all agree, is possible. Nobody said anything about competing until it was brought up as a glib dismissal of the original question. Which, we now agree, wasn't warranted.

Moving on this info is competing with the big players.

It was possible to gain by trading on this info when it was news. For the big players, that was 18 months ago, so by now the opportunity to meaningfully trade on this info is exhausted.

For any new information, you can trade on it if you get it at the same time (or before) as the big players, and you can't if you lose in the competition of timely analysis.

Not exactly. The big players often get news before you. However the big players cannot act one small news. That is if you can invest $1,000 for a year at 15% that is a big deal to a small player - but to the big guys the time spending trading that $1,000 is time when they ignore the other millions under their watch and so it isn't worth it. Thus as a small player you need to find those large gains on small investments that are not worth their time.

Actually this news was tradable by both small and big players. It is larger than all the big traders combined after you factor in risk tolerance.

That is nobody sane puts all their eggs in on basket. There was always the risk that vaccine efforts would have found a vaccine for the disease and stopped it in is tracks. There have always been diseases, most don't spread fast enough to be a problem and it isn't clear in advance which are a problem and which are not.

From the OP "Buy TSN, SAFM, HRL...but it's probably too late at this point. We were placing bets on this 18 months ago."

Emphasis mine.

I'm confused. Are you saying placing small bets that aren't worth it for big management firms is a "legit strategy" to perform better on the scale of a retail investor, or not? I'm getting mixed messages.

There are two conversations here:

* Pigs and how to make a buck because of all the ones dying in China. I'm not seeing any good suggestions about how to profit from that for small investors.

* bluGill's suggestion that they can compete with big actors by not competing with them, by looking at deals that are too small for the big fish to be interested in.

The latter seemed an 'in general' strategy and not related to the specific situation with the pork and broader meat industries.

davidw covered it well. To add to his point: I knew about the ASF problem 18 months ago - I work in agriculture and so I follow the news there more closely than the average person. If I had done some thinking about it I would have been able to make some small bets over a year ago - they would have turned out to have great payoff. Of course I would have also made some small bets that didn't pay off - but they would have still been okay because the small bets with the great return would have still paid off about the S&P500 average and as a smart investor I would always diversify my risk.

Differentiated market.

You absolutely can, because you have much less capital to deploy and no strings attached. The sorts of opportunities you’re looking for and they’re looking for can be totally disjoint. Some friends and I made a bit of easy money in college on very good derivatives trades that only existed at tiny volumes (low thousands).

There’s lots of good reasons to invest passively but being unable to compete with big funds isn’t necessarily one of them.

"Quarter of the world's supply..."

doesn't sound like the world of "tiny volumes", but something that moves pretty big markets, which is hardly an under-the-radar trade.

everyone says this but so long as you aren't day trading this is mostly untrue

buying individual stocks is not akin to gambling.

A substantial amount of evidence disagrees with you. Active traders (day traders or not) almost always underperform the market in the long run.

ok. underperforming does not mean "gambling".

i buy what i personally like and use and have made substantially more than the market on Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, PayPal, etc. am I a professional equity analyst? no. but is this "gambling"? I don't think so.

Tech has done very well the past few years. In the long run, who knows.

Gambling is taking on excess risk for excess profit, especially when the odds are against you (expected value is negative). This could be poker or active trading. It's gambling.

Buy and hold long term is not active trading. You’re conflating two completely different things.

It’s odd when I find HN to be so risk adverse when working in tech is all about risk. Fortunes are made with risk. Then as an industry we’re apparently all just degenerate gamblers if buying and holding Apple stock is akin to playing roulette.

Yes, that is the definition of active trading. I suggest you do more research. Active trading is contrasted to passive trading (index funds).

It’s akin to roulette in that it’s statistically non-optimal, not that the level of risk is the same.

HN readers tend to be focused upon evidence and mathematically inclined.

If that were true literally no HN reader would work at a startup, but we know that isn't the case. Or take any compensation in the form of equity in one company, even at a large one.

First of all, financially and statistically speaking, working at a startup almost never makes sense compared to working at a FAANG or similarly high-paying company. (There have been countless articles and discussions about this on HN, so I won't rehash the arguments.) Second, there are other reasons for working at a startup that have little or nothing to do with money (it's more fun/rewarding, you learn more, work/life balance, etc). The latter doesn't really have a parallel in investing unless you only invest in sustainable/ethical companies or something like that, but then the conversation about maximizing profit and beating the market is kind of moot anyway.

> Or take any compensation in the form of equity in one company, even at a large one.

Public stocks are liquid enough that you can sell them as soon as possible and immediately "cash out", so any equity-based compensation at a public company can reasonably be treated as cash. The same applies to a private VC-backed company with an upcoming IPO, though obviously there is a little bit more risk involved there.

That doesn't follow at all. I work at a tech startup because it's a business in which I think I can add value. I don't think I know enough about finance to move the needle.

As for big-company equity, I'm happy to take RSUs in a FAANG , and sell them the day they arrive. Nothing radical there.

That would be true iff compensation were the only reason for joining startups.

Working in tech is not "all about risk"; being a founder/entrepreneur is in any industry, but just an average employee that writes code is hardly risky.

> but is this "gambling"? I don't think so.

Of course it is, because you can't predict the future. You could have just as easily lost money investing in individual stocks, even ones that seemed like no-brainers at the time. Why do you think you're better than most other investors at making those investment choices?

Life isn’t risk free. Just because you can’t predict something doesn’t mean it’s inherently gambling.

But if that is your definition of gambling then every human gambles every single day just by living.

Personally I don’t think minimizing risk as far as I can is a particularly enlightened or interesting way to live ones life, but to each their own.

Certainly this past decade rewarded risk takers.

> But if that is your definition of gambling then every human gambles every single day just by living.

I would indeed argue that this is the case, but that's probably not useful for the purposes of this discussion. :)

> Personally I don’t think minimizing risk as far as I can is a particularly enlightened or interesting way to live ones life, but to each their own.

That's perfectly fine, and I'm not trying to dissuade you or anyone else from actively trading if it is interesting and enjoyable to you. (FWIW I have also made very good returns doing this in the past, and had a lot of fun doing it—I only stopped because my risk tolerance changed.) But, except in specific circumstances[0], to call it anything but gambling is a bit disingenuous, and statistically speaking, you will most likely underperform the market.

[0]: In particular, if you have something that most other investors don't, such as data/information, faster algorithms, etc, it's entirely plausible that you can have an edge on the market and tip the odds in your favor. But this does not describe the vast majority of investors, let alone individuals doing this in their free time.

Best to compare it to a known and easily accessible baseline such as index funds / passive investing. You are gambling relative to passive investing, in that you hope for higher returns but statistically you will achieve lower returns. Not that complicated.

Maybe median wise, but not mean. Most ETFs still have fees and they use Authorized participants to make the trades from individual stocks to the ETFs and thus they are also taking a cut. Investing yourself using a no fee broker involves no middleman whatsoever so it cannot possibly achieve a lower return in aggregate.

Yes, of course ETFs take a cut. They are not run by non-profits. They are still a reasonable baseline and standard marker for the broader market, given their typically quite small management fees.

More importantly are you suggestinging individuals buy and weight all components of an ETF like VOO (500 stocks) themselves? Pretty ridiculous. Tracking error is real and there is an extreme time cost which makes hypothetical strategies like that unreasonable for most investors.

I also just don’t understand what your comment has to do with mine in the first place.

> I also just don’t understand what your comment has to do with mine in the first place.

You said "statistically you will achieve lower returns" which I pointed out is impossible mean wise due to the added fees.

This is just “not even wrong.”

Yes, if you used a no fee broker to buy and sell (everyday...) the constituent 500-5000 stocks typically in a large index fund you could avoid the very low management fee.

In practice, that’s ridiculous. The management fee on a good ETF is less than pennies on the dollar. It’s the full time jobs of many people to do this. It takes a lot of time. If you tried to replicate it yourself on an individual basis there would be significant opportunity costs as well as far increased tracking error, as well as other things I’m probably not thinking about off the top of my head. There is a reason no one does that.

To each their own. Clearly I have a higher risk tolerance than you, and over the last decade it’s paid off handsomely.

If it’s gambling so be it. I guess I gambled and won.

I was not commenting about myself. Simply correcting your mistakes. You are not a very sophisticated retail investor and it’s wrong for you to opine to others like this in the face of substantial evidence.

Why do you think you're better than most other investors at making those investment choices?

Not OP, but the simple answer is: “because my returns over the years prove that I can.” I’ve heard this question enough times over the years that I usually just ignore such silly questions and go back to buying deep-in-the-money AAPL calls. Conversely, if it makes one feel better, continue to tell yourself individuals can’t beat the market (which is mostly true).

> Not OP, but the simple answer is: “because my returns over the years prove that I can.”

But I could make the same argument as to why my "strategy" playing slots or roulette is good, but in reality it just means I've gotten really lucky, and I might wipe out all my earnings in the span of an hour if that luck suddenly turns. That's not to say there aren't legitimately profitable trading strategies—"you can't beat the market" is, strictly speaking, demonstrably false—but "buy stocks of companies I like" is not one of those, and is entirely equivalent to gambling.

Lucky is making a few trades that went well. When one can do it consistently for twenty years, is it still luck? Yeah, maybe it’s luck that deep-in-the-money AAPL calls (as one example) consistently make money. Maybe my occasional “disaster” strategy (buys calls for UAL, Equifax, et. al., after bad press that’ll blow over) is luck. But, man, both examples consistently work. /shrug

Anyway, I have little desire to repeat the same old arguments, nor convince anyone else. However, one might consider the differences between a slot machine (which tells you up front that you will lose money in the long term, and has no stop orders) and trading equities. Or don’t, matters little to me because I have no argument to win.

> When one can do it consistently for twenty years, is it still luck?

If you take a few million people and have them invest in put or call options every year, you're still going to have some streaky winners after 20 years. Very few individual investors I have talked to have convinced me they are even tracking results well enough to back their claims of outperformance.

It's like you copied the definition of a fallacy in your comment.

Aren't we already in an index fund bubble? How can the stock market stomach all of that liquidity? Don't the share prices go up beyond the value of the companies?

There is a large amount of wealth invested in index funds but that doesn’t mean it’s a bubble. By its definition index funds are amortizing their investments to mitigate risk, this is opposite of a bubble.

I don't understand what you mean with 'amortize'. Doesn't it mean writing off the value of something? Why would you write off the value of an index fund investment? And how does that mitigate risk?

I guess you mean that they spread their investment among all companies that belong to an index. But that doesn't solve the problem of too much liquidity.

Depends on the index fund.

Weighting seems surprisingly important, yet almost never mentioned by index proponents.

Especially as their total cap comes to represent a broader proportion of the total market.

Probably too hard to analyze. How do you know what the demand for meat is like? Will people just switch to other foods if it becomes too expensive? If pork is costing me $50/kg, maybe I start eating potatoes and nuts? Maybe other factors force the price down anyway. I don't know - I wouldn't.

Just buy shares that are good for the long term.


What structural theses do you have on global warming, out of curiosity? Or anything else of interest that can be shared?

Haven't thought about it. It's hard to find theses that have all the elements that makes it investable. Need 1. Something people don't know which 2. They will soon know which means 3. Things are mispriced.

I don't know that the global warming story has something like that yet, but I'm no expert so I really don't know.

I don't think you can just look at the futures, have to see price series for pork prices in China, e.g. https://www.pig333.com/markets_and_prices/china_106/

Do you have an alternative link for hog prices? The graph and prices are blocked by adblock or noscript.

I'm looking at this for hog prices: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/lean-hogs - does this reflect the pork prices you are describing about?

Let me look around, but I remember it being hard to find good price series for pork in China. Don't think the LH1 ticker is the one to look at, but maybe it's a reasonable proxy directionally...I'm not sure it's been a while since I charted the series against each other.

How do you place a bet on something so as you say undeniable though? Ie how are you in front of the priced in wave

In another comment, OP says he was betting on this 18 months ago. They key is to detect big events like this before they become undeniable common knowledge.

>They key is to detect big events like this before they become undeniable common knowledge.

Indeed. It's quite hit miss though.e.g. I called the supermicro stuff right. Made money. Tried same on amd spectre and got burned.

Each time relying on hn being ahead of the knowledge curve

> key is to detect big events like this before they become undeniable common knowledge

But it’s not even enough to know before it’s common knowledge, don’t you have to know before investors with big pockets know (and buy, and drive up the price)? That’s a taller order since those investors have people whose job it is to know this stuff well before it becomes common knowledge.


I don't know if you can at this point. People were complacent and dismissed the concerns. Sell side only started writing about it 6 months or more after we caught wind of it. You just have to be ahead of the curve. Many reasons why sell side was complacent, including 1) analysts, especially US-based ones, are very focused on leading indicators of supply from USDA data and 2) they don't want to think about China that much bc they feel it's hard to rely on the data from there, etc

Just out of curiosity why would a hole in the pork supply cause a political crisis?

I just mean that it would cause unrest because pork make up a not-insignificant portion of China's CPI.

Why do you think this market was so inefficient?

There was going to be temporary inefficiency no matter what because this was a pretty big and sudden supply shock. If your question is why did it last for as long as it did, I think it's because people (mainly sell side analysts) were very complacent and dismissed the concerns of didn't really understand the issues. Related to that is that it's harder to come by reliable information from China..which probably means the problem is far worse - if China admits to 1/4th reduction in hog herd, imagine how bad it must actually be!

Makes sense. And that is what I meant—it’s just strange to see material information not getting priced in within milliseconds.

People go around affirming how this happens, but I don't think very many people go out and try to determine through observation whether it's true.

I noticed a stock was up ~60% one morning not too long ago, and when I looked for news, it turned out that they just had their drug approved by the FDA. But it continued to rise throughout the day, and eventually leveled off at about triple what it had been the previous day.

The approval of a drug is about as clean and discrete a piece of market moving information as you can get, and yet anyone who could put it in context had hours to buy. That shouldn't make people go "oh, there are always exceptions", but "hmm, maybe a fundamental assumption somewhere is wrong".

I mean, presumably people are using ML and inside information to the hilt, as much as they can, in today's market. But the consequences aren't what people think.

That’s interesting. What company?

> - As a result, global proteins will enter a multi-year up-cycle. All proteins (beef, chicken, pork) will benefit.

I am not so optimistic. Climate change discussions, a couple notable exceptions (Trump, Bolsonaro, Morrison) aside, generally has recognized that animal protein and the efforts required to create it (deforestation for growing food, over-nitration due to feces used as fertilizer) are no longer sustainable. I can very well imagine massive bans or quotas as a result, the Dutch government is actually forced to do something to reduce their CO2 contributions by their Supreme Court.

If priced accurately, why do you think the externalities of CO2 are anywhere near enough to destroy demand for meat?

I only perennially bring this up, because one time I was interested in what the numbers might be, and I looked up the National Resources Defense Council estimates were for the economic impact of global warming in ~a half century. The rather startling figures were only a few dollars per gallon of gas. Not to be at all precise, by "a few" I mean 1-10. Not, it seems to me, qualitatively different that the difference between US and European gas prices. Obviously people still eat meat in the EU and haven't radically changed their lifestyle.

I'm not saying that therefore we should not stop climate change, just that as far as I know, the NRDC is reasonably reputable, not a nest of deniers, and they didn't seem to be supporting an economic case for major changes to everyone's lifestyle. That should be shocking, or at least require some resolution.

Some people do have the opinion that mainstream sources downplay the consequences of global warming so as not to be too alarmist, and in fact we can't be too alarmist because it really is too late. Maybe that is correct, but when there is such a disconnect and people just don't talk about it most of the time, it deeply worries me. Not just the idea that the world might be ending and we aren't resolving how to prevent it, but that maybe nobody who is talking about these things is serious at all.

Protein prices would likely benefit still under that scenario, at least in the short run, as you are talking about drastically limiting supply. Presumably the demand would still be there.

Don't base your investments on wishful thinking.

All of your suggestions will also cause the prices of animal-based foods to rise. I hope those price increases are substantial.

Multi-year could be just 2-5 years. You're talking a much longer-term structural thing. China has to deal with soaring pork prices. I don't think they care about environmental impact.

Beef, chicken and pork are not protein.

Meat ag is incredibly dangerous and pollution-causing.

1. Pandemic evolution by cramming zillions of animals in unsanitary conditions, with humans interspersed attempting to clear out rivers of poop and pee.

2. Antibiotic resistance by overusing antibiotics to promote growth while compelling accelerated evolution of microbes that can’t be treated with as many classes of antibiotics.

3. Inefficient allocation of input and supporting resources: diesel fuel, water, fertilizer, phosphorous and crops.

4. Pollution of air, water and soil... pig farms especially necessitate lakes of shit that are sprayed into the air, polluting large areas of air, waiter and land. Agriculture runoff as well.

5. Climate change. Net CO2 output of meat ag is nearly that of Portland cement (clinker) production.


99. Animal cruelty... which doesn’t persuade many people because self-interested cognitive dissonance overcomes most people’s limits of self-control and rational thought. (Upton Sinclair-like effect.)

This is exactly the point I tried to make below when people kept claiming that E. coli was a plant problem and not a plant problem. But as you mentioned, it's far more convenient to talk about the dreaded potato blight and ignore the fact that animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to species extinction (through clearing of land for growing of crops to feed back to animals).

Two other relevant HN discussions in the past week:

Chinese criminal gangs spreading African swine fever to force farmers to sell pigs https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21891495

China flight systems jammed by pig farm’s African swine fever defences https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21891968

This isn't just China, it is the whole region.

I've lived in Vietnam for 4 years now and have traveled extensively by motorbike over the entire country. On all of the roads, there is various livestock roaming freely. Goats, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, buffalo, etc... they are either just on the street or in pens in peoples literal shacks by the side of the road.

When driving from south to north (towards China), at some point, you stop seeing pigs entirely. There are checkpoints every few km where you are required to drive through either a wet hole in the ground or over a wet burlap sack. At some places, they spray your tires. There are signs in the villages telling people to be careful.

Needless to say, for this reason and others, I've stopped eating meat in Vietnam unless I know it is imported from an expat owned restaurant. Even then, I've dialed back my meat consumption quite a bit. Eating street food has entirely lost its appeal.

Exactly. You have no insights in where the meat comes from and how long it was cooled before preparation etc.

Fortunately, here in Vietnam the vegetarian options are plenty and also really good.

Hey Till, nice to see you here on hn! =)

Fascinating. What prompted all the travel? Writing a book :)

Thank you. Very long story, but a complete change of life.

Went from living in San Francisco with a big rented house and garage full of stuff to literally just having a small backpack and living in a foreign country where I don't speak the language and don't even have a 'home'.

Being completely outside of my comfort zone has been amazing, best decision ever. Just enjoying a much simpler life based on minimalism. I also spend a very small fraction of the amount of money that I used to, I consider every purchase very carefully now.

For the past month I have been staying at a yoga retreat center in the mountain area north of Saigon. Clean fresh air, quiet, 2 hours of yoga every day, 2 good veggie meals, a lot of meditation and writing code for my day job and commenting on HN.

I don't plan on writing a book... I'd probably fall asleep if I was asked to read it. =)

Have you been learning Vietnamese (what’s the difficulty level compared to say Japanese)? What’s the cost of living like in Saigon? I’ve never been to Asia at all, but would like to this year.

I know a few words, but I've learned that ignorance is bliss here. You don't hear any negativity.

Difficulty? It is all relative... I know 30+ computer languages, but can barely speak english (haha). =) So for me, both would be impossible. Vietnamese is tonal + context and I just don't hear the tones at all.

A few other ways to look at things... yes, I miss out on a lot by not knowing Vietnamese, but at the same time it is a low value language in all other countries. I won't need it elsewhere and I'm not sure I want to live here forever.

Not knowing the language has made me tune my other senses more... I can usually pick up on what people are talking about just by gestures.

The other thing I've noticed is that I just don't have much in common with people who don't know english... there is just so much that you miss out on in the world that cultural values and judgements tend to be vastly different.

Travel. Live in other countries. Pay attention to what is around you. It really gives you immense perspective that you don't get otherwise.

One-quarter doesn't sound like much to me as a sheep farmer. Our herds double-to-triple every year, and then get cut way back again as we turn the lambs into meat. Pigs have even more offspring: 5-6 piglets per litter, 1.5 litters per year, and can have their first litter at 8 months. "One-quarter of the pigs" should be replacable in less than a year, a minor temporary supply shortage for the meat market.

EDIT: I don't disupte any of the facts of the article, and my use of the world "minor" is from the presumption that people might infer that this is a long-term problem, rather than an acute and quickly rectifiable one which seems "minor" in comparison to a long-term one.

Individual farmers don't lose 1/4 of their pigs. They lose 100% of their pigs, as all must be culled by law if the disease is found. Recovering from this is difficult if you don't have the money or ability to take on debt to purchase new stock at high post-catastrophe prices. I think this will cause a significant shift in China from small producers to large factory production, as a lot of the small producers will not recover.

Problems being that the disease is still going and not under control.

Also whole herds are being culled, producers would have to buy not just breed and some are switching to other livestock.

I don't dispute any of that. I only wanted to head off a possible misconception that the headline might have lead people to believe that losing "one quarter" was going to be hard to recover from. It's definitely bad, but also easy and quick to recover from.

That's the world wide statistic. The chance that a pork farmer lost all his livestock in China is pretty high.

I'm surprised neither the article nor the comments on here discuss the problem of genetic diversity. Practically all domesticated farm animals today are bred in a highly controlled manner, and are selected for yield.

Here in France where I live, almost all chickens, pigs, cows etc are pure-bred belonging to races (cows especially are registered in race registries). Take for example our local cow race, the Charolais. These cows are famous for the quality of their meat, but at the same time notorious for demanding constant veterinary care and needing help in calving.

There's no doubt that all those diseases that break out every few years would have much less chance of developping into global plagues if domestic animals were more genetically diverse, but this would require rethinking our priorities, and also perhaps our relationship with those animals that nourish us.

Wow. I guess that's why China has a Strategic Pork Reserve[1]. I thought the Pork Reserve was funny the first time i heard about it, but it's not so much now.

[1] https://www.cnbc.com/id/100795405

Not as funny as Canada's strategic maple syrup reserve which at some point was actually stolen...

Oh. My. God. This is true: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Canadian_Maple_Syrup_Hei....

I'm going to write a movie out of this.

Only part of the reserve was stolen. There is an episode of the Netflix docuseries "Dirty Money" dedicated to the theft and the Maple Syrup market.

I read things like this and wonder what will move the tipping point to plant-derived sources of essential amino acids (thus protein) adequately to stop farming animals.

Poorly managed plant diseases are just as prevalent and often even harder to control and eradicate.

Animal agriculture won't stop.

This disease process eliminates bad management and corrupt inefficient government.

Any industrial scale animal agriculture has as an input industrial scale plant production. For example, most of the plant matter produced for consumption in the US goes not to humans, but to animal agriculture instead.

Any issues in plant agricultural production will be felt many times over in prices for meat (either via subsidy or at the counter) than in prices for plants.

How is this ending corrupt inefficient government?

Plant diseases are caused by animal agriculture operations for the more part. E.Coli and salmonella are two big ones that were on salad greens recently. Guess what - they didn't originate from the plants. They are 100% animal (or human) based.

Manure, contaminated water, runoff - all contributing factors to "plant diseases", all issues from raising animals for food.

E. coli and salmonella aren't plant diseases. They make humans sick, not plants. Plant diseases are stuff like pseudocercospora, which are on track for eradicating the most common bananas grown today, despite attempts at quarantining affected regions to stop the disease from spreading.

Wikipedia has a nice list of lists of plant diseases: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_plant_diseases

>E. coli and salmonella aren't plant diseases

You must have misread what I wrote because I never claimed that they were. I put quotes around "plant diseases" because the two major outbreaks that everybody thinks about weren't plant diseases, they were animal-related.

thank you

Are plant diseases less communicable to humans (and animals in general) ?

I don't know if this is a good faith question or not. But of course the concern isn't people getting diseases from plants.

Crop yields go down and in some cases the resulting grain becomes poisonous to people or animals which can in some cases cause disease (fungal most often).

good point, as i didn't word it correctly at all: how tricky is it to control diseases _among_ plant cultivars?

You're correct. Pigs are very similar to humans anatomically, and biochemically mammals share a LOT of genetics, so its much easier for mutations to lead to species hopping pathogens. This is one reason why Eurasian cultures dominated historically speaking: they'd lived with livestock for much longer and evolution crafted those human populations to have numerous immunities that isolated, non livestock holding communities didnt have.

Put in another way or with another interpretation: the arms race between disease and immune system in the animal-human-disease relationship led to very powerful diseases which the humans carried in their populations but were not largely affected by.

When the Europeans started crossing oceans to contact very different civilizations they brought the diseases which themselves committed genocide because the new populations hadn't had the same difficulty or interactions with animals and diseases.

China has rich tradition of vegetarian cuisine due to Buddhism but pork is still a significant cuisine staple. China is already nominally food secure i.e. it can feed everyone on domestic production but absolute food security is a huge focus for central planners and from what I've gleaned, the goal is still to provide enough domestic animal production vs pivot to plant proteins. Although Chinese fake meat research is also trending. At the end of the day it's cultural, I think long term it would be easy to encourage more vegetarian diets in China because vegetarian Buddhist diets is associated with health and Chinese demographics is skewing older for the foreseeable future. Combined with lack of comprehensive health safety net and people will eventually skew towards less animal protein.

> China has rich tradition of vegetarian cuisine due to Buddhism

This is less and less true. Chinese meat consumption increased nearly 3-fold in the 1990-2013 period (from 25kg/y/cap to 62kg/y/cap). Meanwhile, meat consumption in the EU during the same period has started reducing from 85kg/y/cap to 81kg/y/cap. The trends have been continuing since 2013.

Of course, the USA is off the charts, at 115kg/y/cap, but the meat obsession there is totally unsustainable, unhealthy and insane IMO.

Source: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/meat-consumption-vs-gdp-p...

I believe this is mainly because of the growth of income. In the early 90s which I was born, most Chinese think of meat as an expensive ingredient, whereas in the early 2000s, most people can actually buy meat for dinner without a second thought.

I agree. This actually demonstrates that low meat consumption in China is maybe in part a cultural factor, but first and foremost an economical problem.

> China has rich tradition of vegetarian cuisine

Doesn't seem to me like that at all.

Chinese under 40 are bigger protein eaters today than even Germans and Americans

Tradition as in there is a lot of already developed Chinese vegetarian dishes to draw from if there is to be a vegetarian resurgence. They're not popular in contemporary Chinese consumption culture but there's no need to reinvent meat.

Plants can also become ill.

...from contact with contaminated water, which is contaminated with things like animal shit, from farms.

Plants don't just get horrendous diseases - nearly all of these outbreaks can be traced back to animal agriculture in close proximity.

This is really, really incorrect. Many, if not most, of the major crop plant diseases have nothing to do with animal agriculture. Wheat rust, potato blight, fire blight in fruit trees, citrus greening, verticillium wilt, various other fungal and bacterial pathogens — none of which have anything to do with factory animal farming.

When is the last time there was a major outbreak of potato blight that made thousands of people sick?

The diseases I'm referring to here are the ones that are making humans sick on a large scale, like E. coli for example. I'd think it was obvious given the context. But then again this is hackernews so being pedantic about everything is par for the course.

I agree with your point that E. coli outbreaks are closely coupled to animal agriculture, and I apologize if I appeared pedantic. That was not my intent.

The thing is, E. coli isn’t a plant disease. It’s a human pathogen that gets on plants and then makes humans ill. But the plant was never infected by the germ — in the same way that if you share a fork with someone who has a cold, you could get infected. But you wouldn’t say that the common cold was “a kitchen utensil disease”.

In addition, E. coli is a very minor player in terms of human deaths compared to actual plant diseases. Plant diseases to be very, very concerned about are the ones that attack major crops and reduce or eliminate yield. Then people starve. Starvation kills many more people than E. coli. This is why wheat rust is such a big deal.

Plants can be infected with viruses, bacteria, fungus, and of course pests. It doesn't all come from contaminated water either.

Read the top comment here. Animal agriculture is extremely destructive to the environment, and unsanitary conditions in factory farms are par for the course.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2020

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact