Chinese supermarkets, consumers seek domestic meats to cut contamination risks
Published: Jan 03, 2021 07:38 PM

Staff members work on the production line at a meat products processing company in Wuwei City, northwest China's Gansu Province, Nov. 17, 2020. In recent years, Wuwei City has gone to great lengths to develop husbandry industrial clusters, covering the area of forage grass cultivation, cattle breeding, meat and dairy products processing and so on, which optimizes resources allocation and increases the locals' income. (Xinhua/Du Zheyu)

China's meat imports have dwindled in recent months as concerns persist over the safety of imported cold-chain products, pushing up demand and prices for domestically-produced meat as Chinese customers seek safer alternatives. 

According to data from China's General Administration of Customs, pork and beef imports in November stood at 330,000 tons, down almost 70 percent from July. Beef imports alone fell 23 percent to 170,000 tons. 

Yang Meng, owner of a large seafood importing company catering to several provinces in North China, told the Global Times on Sunday that the import volume of his company was down significantly from a year earlier, and he has been losing money all year.

"Demand has returned quite a bit compared with February and March, but it is still around 60 percent of what we used to import in 2019," Yang said. 

Imported cold-chain food, such as seafood, beef, pork and poultry, has repeatedly tested positive for COVID-19 across China, including products from Brazil, Ecuador, Russia and India. So far, only one positive case was reported from domestic meat products in December, when the outer packaging of domestic chicken drumsticks tested positive in East China's Anhui Province. 

Yang told the Global Times that sporadic cases of positive tests add to rising uncertainties in his business, along with other parts of the import food supply chain, including the shipping and storage companies. 

"Because there were employees who tested positive at the ports, it is increasingly difficult and time-consuming for us to unload our imported products from the port," Yang said. The process now takes up to two weeks, compared with the previous situation when it only took one day.

Finding storage is also more challenging. Ran Kai, a manager from Hubei Wuhan Beijiguanghui Cold Chain Storage Co, based in Central China's Hubei Province, confirmed to the Global Times on Sunday that the company has closed its cold warehouse for imported food to prevent its workers from contacting potentially contaminated products. 

In Beijing, recent cases of COVID-19 are making people more nervous about imported cold-chain products. Starting about two weeks ago, some of the big supermarket chains in Beijing began to turn away imported products, Yang said. 

Although Yang declined to identify his clients, several supermarkets have announced that they are taking more precautions with imported food. Hema Fresh, a Chinese e-commerce platform run by Alibaba Group, pledged in August to increase its stocks of domestically produced seafood and meat to replace imported products, media reported.

An employee from a Carrefour store located in Hefei, East China's Anhui Province told the Global Times anonymously on Sunday that "no imported meat is sold at this supermarket, and we only sell domestic meat." 

Domestic meat producers are reaping benefits as customers and restaurants seek alternatives to imported products. According to, an industry association for lamb producers, the average price of domestic lamb now exceeds lamb imported from New Zealand by 10 percent. It is also up by 10 to 30 yuan ($4.6) nationwide year-on-year.

According to media reports, several big restaurants chains are turning to domestic lamb due to safety concerns. Xiabu Xiabu, a hotpot chain, has reportedly increased purchase of domestic lamb to reduce COVID-19 contamination risks.