Coronavirus outbreak linked to Beijing wholesale food market could impact China’s meat imports

A Chinese epidemic control worker wears a protective suit and mask as he and volunteers direct people at a site where authorities were performing nucleic acid tests for COVID-19 on citizens who have had contact with the the Xinfadi Wholesale Market or someone who has, at an outdoor sports center June 15, 2020 in Beijing, China.

Kevin Frayer | Getty Images

A new coronavirus cluster linked to a wholesale market in Beijing could impact food shipments into China.

The new cluster is significant as there haven’t been any domestic cases in Beijing in nearly two months due to strict controls. According to local media, the virus was found on chopping boards used for imported salmon at the Xinfadi market.

On Monday, the World Health Organization said that the claim the new cluster might have been caused by imports or packaging of salmon was not the “primary hypothesis,” Reuters reported.

However, various provinces in China are already stepping up inspections of fresh and frozen meat and seafood, Reuters reported.

The situation would be “difficult” if the cluster is traced back to imported meat as China needs imports to keep meat inflation under control, Darin Friedrichs, senior Asia commodity analyst at trading house INTL FCStone said in a report on Monday.

“There would need to be some increased safety measures about handling and processing of imported meat. But implementing measures like that, and making changes to the supply chain, could be disruptive,” wrote Friedrichs.

Even if it is determined that the new cluster was not triggered by imported meat, the reports may have already hit consumer sentiment.

“Consumers may be more wary of buying imported meat as that impression has already been made,” added Friedrichs.

The U.S. and Brazil are major meat exporters to China and also the two worst-hit countries in the coronavirus pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Infection clusters have also emerged at meat processing and packing plants in both the U.S. and Brazil.

A rise in consumer demand for domestic pork could further push up food inflation. Food prices in China have been rising for more than a year, primarily driven by a surge in pork prices after an outbreak of African swine fever decimated the country’s hog herds.

China, the world’s largest pork consumer, had been ramping up imports to boost its supply of the staple protein and prices were just beginning to see some respite. In May, pork prices rose 81.7% from a year ago, but were down 8.1% from April.

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