For the second time since June, China has suspended imports from a U.S. poultry plant where employees became infected with the coronavirus.
First to face suspension was poultry from a Tyson Foods plant in Springdale, AR, which was suspended by the Chinese government in June for similar reasons. The second such action came a few days ago when China suspended imports from an OK Foods poultry plant in Fort Smith, AR because of coronavirus cases among employees.
China, the world’s top importer of meat and poultry products, has refused imports from some foreign plants in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19.
“We don’t think that either one of these two are justified, especially considering the fact that the virus cannot be transmitted in poultry meat,” says Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.
Imports from the OK Foods, which is owned by Mexico’s Industrias Bachoco, were suspended by the General Administration of Customs China (GACC), China’s customs authority. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Arkansas plant became ineligible to ship products to China on September 13, 2020.
That suspension was included on a list of recent changes to approved meat imports published on September 15th on the website of GACC.
The Arkansas Department of Health reports 234 OK Foods employees were infected with the virus from the onset of the pandemic last March through August 31st. Currently, however, the number of active cases is less than five.
“We feel this action is very unfortunate and that it is not justified,” Sumner added. “One reason we feel it is unjustified is that we know, based on several research findings, that the virus can’t be transmitted in poultry.”
Broiler exports to China in July were 34,623 tons and valued at $57.6 million, reports USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service data.
China previously asked companies to sign and provide letters attesting that China’s products are not a risk for COVID-19. USDA advises companies not to sign such letters or give a statement.
“It is important to note that the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration agree that there is no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 associated with food,” says Gary Mickelson, a spokesperson with Tyson Foods regarding the ban on its poultry.
“At Tyson, we’re confident our products are safe and we’re hopeful consultations between the U.S. and Chinese governments will resolve this matter,” he said.
China in 2019 lifted a 4-year ban on poultry from 172 U.S.-based plants that began in response to a 2015 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) resulting in the culling of 50 million birds in the U.S. The U.S. was confirmed HPAI-free in 2017.