China has suspended imports of poultry from a Tyson Foods plant in Springdale, Ariz., due to a recent coronavirus outbreak at the plant. The country’s General Administration of Customs made the decision after Tyson confirmed a cluster of more than 200 COVID-19 infections among employees at the plant.
China has taken similar action against pork plants in Germany, the U.K., and the Netherlands for pork, and for poultry and beef in Brazil.
Many poultry organizations are concerned about China’s decision and worry that this could lead to further suspensions and damage the industry.
“The action by China was completely unjustified,” Tom Super, a spokesperson with the National Chicken Council, tells Food Quality & Safety. “The CDC, USDA, FDA, World Health Organization, and many other leading health authorities around the world have all stated that, currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”
Additionally, Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, tells FQ&S that there is no justification for this action against Tyson or any other poultry producer. “COVID-19 is not transmissible in food or meat. Nevertheless, the food industry continues to practice stringent food safety procedures to ensure safe food,” he says. “Additionally, research has shown that the virus cannot survive in poultry. Plus, any poultry shipments to China are shipped at sub-zero temperatures. Tyson was conducting proactive testing in the interest of worker safety and for the community, and now they’re being punished for their openness and transparency.”
History of Ban on U.S. Poultry
It wasn’t long ago that China wasn’t allowing any poultry from the U.S. into the country. Between January 2015 and November 2019 the country banned imports due to an avian influenza outbreak that occurred in December 2014, even though the disease was gone by August 2017.
“After being shut out of the market for years, U.S. poultry producers and exporters welcome the reopening of China’s market to their products,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said at the time. “America’s producers are the most productive in the world and it is critical they be able to sell their bounty to consumers in other parts of the globe. We will continue our work to expand market access in important markets like China as well as other countries, to support our producers and U.S. jobs.”
In February, Tyson reported on its earnings call that China was an important market for the company, noting that Chinese orders for pork increased approximately 600 percent in its fiscal first quarter when compared with last year. On the same call, Tyson noted that it expected Chinese imports of U.S. chicken to more than double in the second quarter of 2020 after an outbreak of African swine fever ravaged the country’s pig population last year, forcing customers to look for meat alternatives.
“At Tyson, our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, and we work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that we produce all of our food in full compliance with government safety requirements,” said Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson, in a prepared statement. He added that the company remains confident that its products are safe, and it hopes the issue can be resolved in trade talks between the two countries.