Caution over food imports to continue for a while: experts
Published: Jul 02, 2020 06:38 PM

A shop employee sorts products for a shelf of imported foods at a supermarket in downtown Shanghai on April 11, 2018. (Xinhua/ AFP PHOTO)

Strict customs inspections of imported food products will continue for a while at China's ports as more cluster infection cases are emerging in food processing and packaging plants abroad.

In a fresh move on Thursday, China customs said that several meat processors in Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands have suspended exports to China since June 27.

Strengthened monitoring measures and a temporary pause of certain food imports could go on, health experts say. 

British snack food manufacturer Walkers said 28 members of its 1,400-strong workforce in Leicester, UK, had tested positive for the coronavirus after Leicester became the first UK city to be brought back into lockdown, according to a report from the Daily Mail on Wednesday.

In early June in Brazil, an estimated 2,399 employees from 24 livestock slaughterhouses in 18 municipalities of the Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul were infected. Previously in the Netherlands, 147 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus at a Dutch pork processing plant near the German border, according to Reuters.

As similar cases emerged, "Chinese Customs is working 24 hours a day conducting sampling inspections of imported meat products, and the proportion of sampling inspection is high," Gao Guan, deputy director of the China Meat Association, told the Global Times on Thursday.

"Many enterprises have expressed dismay as they are concerned over the delay to their shipments," Gao said.

To shake off Chinese consumers' jitters over imported food quality, some importers are now sending their goods to third-party agencies for nucleic acid testing, an industry insider told the Global Times Thursday.

"We, as importers, are bearing all the extra costs for testing and delays to shipments at the moment to 'save the industry,'" the insider said, noting that they also hope foreign exporters will share some of the burden if they want to continue to export to China.

China has barred shipments from contaminated meat factories in Brazil and the Netherlands which were hit by outbreaks of COVID-19. The ban and strengthened control could "last for some time until the pandemic situation is eased in those factories," Wang Zuli, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, told the Global Times Thursday.

The move will inevitably affect domestic market meat supply, especially for pork, as shortages due to the African Swine Fever have not been made up, Wang said, noting that China had intended to significantly increase pork imports to fill that gap.

However, Gao noted that although the amount of imports could be affected, the impact is going to be limited since imported meat only accounts for 10 percent of domestic meat consumption and China's demand for meat could be "elastic."