BLOOMBERG, JUNE 18, 2020
China has started testing all imported meat for coronavirus | Nation’s pig herd has been recovering faster than expected
By Michael Hirtzer for Bloomberg – China’s move to test imported meat for the novel coronavirus is threatening to snarl trade with the world’s largest pork consumer, hurting livestock farmers who had seen booming shipments of pork and beef.
Port authorities in the Asian nation are conducting nucleic acid tests on shipments of imported meat even as experts caution that food poses little risk of spreading the virus. Officials are testing inbound containers of meat at the port of Tianjin, said Darin Friedrichs, an analyst at INTL FCStone in Shanghai.
China’s customs department said that it had tested 32,174 samples of imported seafood, meat, vegetables, fruit as well as packing and cold storage, all of which were found negative for the coronavirus. The tests were conducted between June 11-17, and customs didn’t indicate whether it would continue or cease the checks.
The move comes after an outbreak was traced to a chopping board used by a seller of imported salmon. While the National Health Commission said there’s no evidence so far showing salmon is either the origin or intermediate host for the virus, the fish was removed from supermarkets and grocery platforms in major Chinese cities.
“If the virus is found in imported meat, it’s going to be a logistical mess, not only because of the actions the government might take, but also because of the consumer reaction,” Friedrichs said in a report.
China had boosted purchases of American pork and Brazilian beef after the Chinese pig herd — the world’s largest — shrank due to an outbreak of African swine fever virus that began in 2018. Prior to coronavirus, demand for meat in China had contributed to expansion in herds in many meat-exporting countries.
In Brazil, a technical area of Ministry’s Agricultural Defense Secretariat has not been officially notified by China about the need to test cargo, according to an emailed statement. The Ministry’s agricultural attachés are monitoring information that reach them and are watching the situation.
Chile, the top salmon shipper after Norway, is battling to persuade China to resume purchases.
Record-large U.S. pork shipments to China had been a positive for farmers who earlier this year were hit by slaughter disruptions after thousands of meat-plant workers fell ill. While plants boosted processing rates this month, there’s still an ongoing labor crunch due to high absenteeism.
In a Ministry of Commerce briefing on Thursday, spokesman Gao Feng said China will strengthen its communication and coordination with relevant countries to ensure the safety of imported food. Increasing food and agricultural imports is an important part of the country’s proactive import policy, he said.
“Anything that might impact exports to China puts the fear of god into traders,”
Testing could hit exports to China at a time when the country’s pig herd is recovering faster than expected from the African swine fever outbreak. The number of breeding sows expanded 3.9% in May from a month earlier, the eighth consecutive increase, Yang Zhenhai, the head of the agriculture ministry’s animal husbandry bureau, said Wednesday.
“Anything that might impact exports to China puts the fear of god into traders,” Dan Norcini, an independent livestock trader in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, said by telephone.
— With assistance by Tatiana Freitas, James Attwood, Eduardo Thomson, Shuping Niu, and Atul Prakash
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