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China: Traces of Covid-19 found in imported frozen food

Chinese authorities say the virus was found in imported shipments of frozen food, one of which came from Brazil.

According to local Chinese authorities, traces of Covid-19 have been found in shipments of imported frozen food in two Chinese cities, Reuters reports. A shipment of frozen chicken wings, imported from Brazil into the southern city of Shenzen, tested positive for the virus when it was sampled. Reuters reports that Shenzhen authorities identified the chicken as originating from a plant owned by Aurora, Brazil’s third-largest poultry and pork exporter. China has not formally notified Brazilian authorities about the alleged Covid-19 that was found on the frozen wings.

A shipment of frozen chicken wings, imported from Brazil into the southern city of Shenzen, tested positive for the virus when it was sampled. Photo: Koos Groenewold
A shipment of frozen chicken wings, imported from Brazil into the southern city of Shenzen, tested positive for the virus when it was sampled. Photo: Koos Groenewold

Last week, the Brazilian poultry sector and authorities responded to the allegations by stating that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that Covid-19 could be transmitted through food, and that this would be even less likely after 45 days of transportation. The local authorities did point out the source of the shipment, but have yet to offer detailed information on the scope of the contamination. It is currently uncertain whether it was the packaging or the wings themselves that were contaminated.

Mapa: No official notification from China, information on circumstances lacking

The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food Supply (Mapa) issued an official statement last Thursday, 13 August 2020, which touches upon the fact that there has been no official notification from China and that information which details the circumstances under which the virus has been detected is lacking. The statement reads that the website of the Shenzhen Municipality, located in the Guangdong province, published information from local health authorities about the detection of coronavirus nucleic acid on the surface of a frozen chicken wing sample which had been imported from Brazil.

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According to Mapa’s statement, an analysis of other samples from the same shipment came back with negative results. The Shenzhen Epidemiology Prevention and Control office reported that everyone involved in handling the material had tested negatively for Covid-19.

After the news reached the provincial press, the Brazilian Ministry immediately consulted the Agricultural Adidance in Beijing, which in turn consulted the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) seeking official information regarding the alleged contamination. Mapa has not yet been officially notified by Chinese authorities regarding the incident.

No scientific evidence of transmission through food

Mapa furthermore points out that, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no scientific evidence which suggests that Covid-19 could be transmitted either through food or through frozen packaging. Brazil reiterates the harmlessness of products produced in establishments which operate under federal inspection (SIF), as they obey strict protocols in order to safeguard public health.

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According to preliminary information, the products originate from one of Aurora’s slaughterhouses in the state of Santa Catarina. In a note, the Catarinese Poultry Association (Acav) reiterated its commitment to food safety in the sector’s production processes.

Scientific evidence demonstrates that there is no possibility of contamination through food products, and animal proteins in particular, which warrants a clarification from the relevant authorities regarding the allegations that were made,” Acav said.

Acav’s president, José Ribas Júnior, stated on video that the sector is working hard to explain the incident. He reasserted that transportation, from the country of origin to its Chinese destination, takes more than 45 days and is carried out at temperatures of -18ºC.

Philippines suspend importation of Brazilian chicken meat

As a direct consequence of the incident, the Philippines suspended the importation of chicken meat from Brazil last Friday. The Philippines’ Department of Agriculture said the measure would be transitory, but did not specify how long the ban would last. According to the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture, the measure was taken as a precaution. According to them, all chicken imported into the country is safe for consumption.