Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Covid on Imported Meat Scare Could Worsen China's Shortage

Chinese officials are on alert for transmission of covid-19 via imported meat and seafood. With imports filling a meat shortage of epic proportions this year, testing, disinfection and other precautious could keep meat prices at record highs for a little longer.

Chinese officials stepped up surveillance of imported meat when a worker at the port of Tianjin tested positive for covid-19 on November 8, four days after unloading a shipment of imported frozen meat. The worker was hospitalized and 156 of his coworkers and neighbors were tested (results not released yet).

Officials in China have been on guard against transmission of new covid-19 outbreaks through frozen food most of this year, following covid-19 outbreaks at meat processing plants in exporting countries such as Germany, the United States and Brazil. 

On November 6, local officials in Dezhou, a city in northern Shandong Province, tested a shipment of German pork knuckles and found four samples with weak positive covid test results and 1 positive. The provincial disease control center confirmed the positive results the following day. Twenty-three workers who had contact with the pork shipment and 67 of their close contacts all tested negative for covid-19. Nine out of 63 samples from external packaging were positive, but negative results were found for samples from the pork itself, trucks, external environment, clothing and gloves.

On November 7, officials in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, discovered covid-19 virus on packaging of frozen fish imported from India which also had been delivered from the Tianjin port. 

Officials in Baoding, Hebei Province, learned that a truck had delivered frozen food purchased in the market in Dezhou where the infected German pork packages were discovered. They found the truck stopped in Baoding's Anguo City for 1 hour, 51 minutes on November 6. The truck delivered frozen fish and chicken. No pork knuckles were on the truck and tests conducted at three seafood shops were all negative. 

A China Agricultural University professor hypothesized that transmission of the virus via frozen food is an objective possibility, and warned everyone to be on guard. Another professor from Zhongshan University warned consumers to buy frozen food only from legal markets and supermarkets and to be wary of products sold by e-commerce vendors.

A feed industry information net analysis warned that pork industry analysts are underestimating the importance of imports in maintaining supplies this year, and suggested that new precautions to prevent covid transmission could tighten supplies of meat. China imported a record 7.4 million metric tons of meat in the first three quarters of 2020, worth $23.1 billion. A Chinese Ministry of Commerce official projected that meat imports for all of 2020 will hit 9.5 mmt. By comparison, China's domestic meat output was 76.5 mmt last year. Imports could account for 10-12 percent of China's meat supply this year.

The analysis ascertained that a 2.23-mmt increase in pork imports have filled most of an estimated national pork deficit of 2.67 mmt in January-September 2020. While officials brag that the swine inventory has recovered to 84 percent of "normal", the analyst points out that the recovery has not yet boosted market supply. Low consumption and strong imports are responsible for the recent decline in pork prices, the analyst surmised.

Officials are calling for extensive testing, inspections, and disinfection of imported frozen food packaging, shipping containers, and trucks, as well as careful record-keeping of shipments to track sources and possible destinations of infected shipments. With China still severely short of animal protein, strict implementation of these measures could exacerbate the shortage, keep consumption low, and keep prices high.

No comments: