Brazil has pushed back against Chinese claims its frozen chicken exports carried coronavirus after authorities in southern China said imported poultry from Latin America’s largest economy tested positive.
The controversy comes as China has stepped up a campaign to ward off the return of Covid-19 by focusing on refrigerated cargo after a spate of incidents in which frozen goods have tested positive.
Since early July, Chinese authorities say they have discovered nine cases of coronavirus on imported frozen food, its packaging or the walls of transport containers.
In the most recent incident on Thursday, the Shenzhen city health commission said a sample taken from a batch of Brazilian frozen chicken wings tested positive for the virus.
It’s very likely that the packaging of these imported goods became contaminated from infected individuals involved in the transportation process
RNA tests carried out on city storage containers and individuals who might have come into contact with the chicken were negative, the commission said, without naming the company that exported the goods.
The Ministry of Agriculture in Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of frozen poultry, responded in a statement citing the World Health Organization’s ruling that there was no scientific evidence of transmission of the Covid-19 virus from frozen food or food packaging.
Despite the WHO’s stance, Chinese officials maintain that the refrigerated food industry is a serious risk. They argue refrigerated containers could allow the virus to survive for long periods of time.
“Given the highly contagious nature of the virus, we have no choice but to take these imported products off the shelves to stop local spread,” an official working at the food safety bureau of a southern Chinese city told the FT.
“It’s very likely that the packaging of these imported goods became contaminated from infected individuals involved in the transportation process,” said the official, who declined to be named.
China is not the only country that has identified shipping as a possible weak spot in defences against a relapse.
New Zealand is currently investigating whether its first infection in more than 100 days could have come from imported frozen goods.
China has been among the most aggressive countries in applying a pre-emptive testing regime for imported products. Since late June, customs authorities have ramped up screening of goods arriving at Chinese ports.
By July 10, Chinese authorities had collected nearly 230,000 samples from goods, containers and packaging.
In early July, positive test results of samples from the packaging of frozen shrimp from Ecuador, the world’s second-largest exporter, led China to suspend imports from three companies last month.
Ecuador’s foreign trade minister Iván Ontaneda said on Thursday that China had agreed to resume some imports after Quito strengthened safety and quality checks.