Thursday, July 9, 2020

No Covid in China Food Market Testing; Exporters Still Asked to Certify Products

Chinese officials found no Covid-19 virus during several days of nationwide testing of food markets in mid-June. Despite the absence of virus contamination, Chinese customs authorities stepped up monitoring of imported fish and meat, and Chinese importers began requesting overseas suppliers to certify that shipments bound for China were virus-free.

Chinese disease control officials ordered nationwide testing in food markets last month after a new outbreak of Covid-19 was linked to Beijing's Xinfadi wholesale market, one of the largest food markets in the country. On June 13, the chairman of Xinfadi market announced that the virus had been found the previous day on a board used to slice imported salmon that had come from the Jing-Zhen seafood market. The chairman said that no Covid-19 virus had been detected in seafood or meat products tested in the market, and nine people who worked with the salmon also tested negative. Nevertheless, the market was closed and disinfected. On the evening of June 12, the Beijing market supervision bureau launched a city-wide check of fresh and frozen meat, poultry and seafood in Beijing markets, cold storage, supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, and cafeterias.
Beijing-Shenzhen seafood market that supplied salmon to Xinfadi Market where a cutting board had Covid-19 detected (source: Beijing Daily)
The Xinfadi discovery inspired a nationwide testing campaign focused on seafood, meat, market environs, and market workers. Similar reports appeared in local state-run news media all over the country linking their testing to the Xinfadi outbreak, often highlighting imported seafood and meat and highlighting findings that no Covid-19 was detected. Similar reports of negative results in local state-run media appears to have been ordered to calm citizens' fears of contracting Covid-19 from imported fish and meat

On June 13--the day after the finding in Xifadi--testing began in Wuhan where municipal and district disease control centers spent three days collecting 6,178 product samples and samples from cutting boards, knives, counters, and fish tanks in 75 supermarkets, 74 wet markets, and 5 seafood trading companies. Local news media noted that samples were taken from a 10,000-square-meter warehouse that held 2000 metric tons of imported pork, imported beef and mutton, and domestic pork and poultry. News media reported that the testing was conducted to prevent recurrence of the virus following the Covid discovery in the Xinfadi market and to assure consumers that food is safe to eat.
Collecting samples of imported meat in Wuhan. Source: Changjiang Daily.
In Jingmen, a small city in the same province as Wuhan, testing began a day later, on June 14. The local health department collected 170 samples from 24 large supermarkets, wet markets, and meat lockers. They also took nasal swabs from 28 seafood and meat workers. All tests for Covid-19 were negative as of June 17.

On June 15, Gansu Province's health commission ordered province-wide emergency covid testing of frozen storage, wet markets, and supermarkets that sell seafood and meat. The testing was also explicitly linked to the Xinfadi outbreak. Testing was focused on imported seafood, frozen meat, beef and mutton. During June 15-17, 1413 samples of foods, 1712 samples from cutting boards, knives, counters, fish tanks, and frozen storage, and 1136 swabs from workers were taken from 80 seafood markets, 121 frozen food markets, 87 large wet markets, and 133 supermarkets in Gansu. All tests for covid-19 were negative.

On June 16, authorities in Ningbo, a port city south of Shanghai, ordered testing in food markets, supermarkets, and hotels. All 160 samples tested negative for Covid-19. A local health official assured readers that the risk of covid in markets is relatively low. Nevertheless local authorities promised to conduct regular testing with a focus on imported seafood and meat.
Mother and child view fish tanks in a Ningbo market. A poster proclaiming "SAFE" just happens to be in the background. (Source; Zhongxin net Zhejiang)
In Chongqing, samples were collected on June 17-18 from a cold storage facility that holds up to 120,000 metric tons of meat and seafood. All tests for Covid were negative on 78 samples of imported meat and seafood.
Choosing samples of meat to test in a Chongqing Dadoudu District meat warehouse.
Dozens of similar reports from cities around China have been issued for the same week, all proclaiming zero negative results. An Economic Daily analysis of the recent rebound in pork prices attributed tight pork supplies in part to the testing program, claiming it had slowed the flow of pork into markets.

Despite the uniformly negative test results, the week after the testing news came out that Chinese buyers were asking exporters of soybeans and meat to provide declarations that their products were free of Covid-19 virus, a demand that threatened billions in dollars of trade. Tyson Foods was the first to announce that they had signed the declaration, promising to comply with Chinese laws and proclaiming confidence in the quality of their products.

On June 23, the Australian Government released a response to Chinese customs surveillance of imported frozen foods for risk of Covid-19 that followed the Xinfadi outbreak. The announcement cited guidance from WHO that there is currently no evidence that Covid-19 can be transmitted to humans through food or packaging. that transmission through food is unlikely, and that no evidence of such transmission has been found to date.

Bloomberg Law reported a similar announcement from a European Commission official who warned that a departure from science-based trade regulations could lead to a "downward spiral" toward "needless import controls" and Covid-19 certifications that could harm global food trade.


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