China Halts Some Tyson Chicken Shipments Over Covid-19

Date: Monday, June 22, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Tyson on Friday said 481 employees across its northwest Arkansas operations had tested positive for the coronavirus since early June

Chinese authorities suspended chicken imports from a Tyson Foods Inc. facility due to what Chinese officials said were Covid-19 infections among the plant’s employees.

The suspension issued Sunday covered products that have arrived in China or are about to arrive there, according to China’s General Administration of Customs. The agency’s order didn’t specify how much chicken the Tyson facility supplied or other details about the products.

Tyson, the biggest U.S. meat company by sales, is looking into the report, which focused on a Springdale, Ark., chicken plant, a company spokesman said Sunday.

“At Tyson, we’re confident our products are safe and we’re hopeful consultations between the U.S. and Chinese governments will resolve this matter,” the spokesman said.

Tyson on Friday said that since early June, 481 employees across its northwest Arkansas operations, including facilities in Springdale, had tested positive for Covid-19, representing about 13% of the workers tested at those sites. Of the positive cases, Tyson said 95% were asymptomatic.

Representatives of the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. had no comment.

The World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration have said there is no evidence Covid-19 is a foodborne illness, and that it is unlikely to spread via food packaging.

China’s move comes after a fresh outbreak of the new coronavirus rattled the country in recent days. Flights in and out of Beijing have been canceled, restrictions have been placed on entry to the city and health checks tightened on public transit.

Chinese officials have been testing imported meat and seafood products for traces of the virus in the past week after the new outbreak was linked to a market where imported meat and fish are sold. Public-health officials had previously sought to assuage fears about seafood—and salmon in particular—as the source of the new outbreak.

On June 18, China suspended imports from a German pork company after German officials confirmed a coronavirus infection at that company, according to China’s State Council.

China this year has ramped up imports of U.S. chicken. The world’s biggest pork-consuming country is grappling with a shortfall in hog production due to African swine fever. outbreaks decimated Chinese hog farms.

Over the first four months of the year, China imported about 56,000 metric tons of U.S.-produced chicken meat, according to the USDA, compared with about 1,200 metric tons in 2019.

China in late 2019 lifted a more than four-year-long ban on U.S. poultry imports, as part of trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing. China implemented the ban after a 2015 avian influenza outbreak hit U.S. turkey and egg-laying chicken operations. Though other countries lifted their own bans on U.S. poultry shipments, China had kept its halt in place, frustrating the U.S. chicken industry.

“Tyson should not have been cited for putting worker safety first or for its transparency in acknowledging that it has taken actions to quarantine workers at their Arkansas facility,” said James Sumner, president of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. “Delisting this Tyson facility served no purpose but to make a public statement that they were taking an action, regardless of its impact.”


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