By Dominique Patton
(Reuters) – Top meat importer China has suspended imports from some foreign meat packing plants where workers became infected with coronavirus – but not others.
WHY IS CHINA SO WARY OF FROZEN FOOD IMPORTS?
China is the world’s top meat importer, bringing in huge volumes in recent months because of a shortfall at home.
Authorities in Beijing found heavy traces of the coronavirus in the meat and seafood sections of the Xinfadi market, a large wholesale food market in Beijing, after an outbreak there in June.
Though there was no evidence to show food had caused the infection, officials at the General Administration of Customs have said they cannot rule out such a risk given the rapid development of the pandemic abroad.
The agency, which oversees food imports, has told trade partners that its efforts are aimed at easing consumer concerns about the safety of imported produce, said diplomats familiar with the conversations.
HOW DOES CHINA ASSESS WHICH MEAT PLANTS SHOULD BE SUSPENDED?
China’s General Administration of Customs did not respond to a Reuters request seeking clarification on its process.
But it has held meetings with food and agriculture authorities from exporting nations, say diplomatic sources, urging them to voluntarily suspend exports from meat plants where workers have contracted COVID-19.
Many countries are complying with China’s request. Argentina recently halted exports to China from seven plants that had COVID-19 cases among employees. Canada, Ireland and France have also voluntarily suspended exports.
In countries that have not notified Beijing of outbreaks, customs has at times halted imports from the affected plants.
Several plants have been suspended in Brazil but only one has in the U.S., where more than 16,000 meatpacking workers in dozens of plants have been infected with coronavirus.
Many plants have been able to resume exports to China after notifying Customs that cases are under control.
WHAT DO COMPANIES SAY?
Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods Inc said Aug. 19 it was complying with Chinese government protocols for Canadian processors that require any plant reporting a positive COVID-19 case to suspend exports to China.
Cargill Inc’s Canadian beef plant at High River, Alberta is also blocked from shipping to China, and said it is communicating with Chinese authorities through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The agency said it is working with Cargill to formally request that exports resume.
Others like Brazil’s BRF have said they were not immediately notified when plants were banned. BRF said Chinese agencies had carried out tests in food samples but found no traces of the novel coronavirus on those.
Tyson Foods Inc says it is working to get China allthe information it needs in order to resume exports from the United States.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Ana Mano in Sao Paulo; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Chris Reese)