Politics

China confirms no evidence New Zealand meat is the source of Covid-19 in Chinese cool stores

Authorities have told the Government there’s no evidence New Zealand beef exports were the source of Covid-19 test in a Chinese cool store.

And officials here are exploring whether products imported from overseas need to be tested for traces of the deadly virus.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said he’d received an update this morning from officials in China that no New Zealand meat was directly implicated as the source of the positive test results.

Reuters reported yesterday the Chinese city of Jinan said over the weekend it had found coronavirus on beef and tripe and their packaging from Brazil, Bolivia and New Zealand, while two other provincial capitals detected it on packaging on pork from Argentina.

The products reportedly entered through ports in Shanghai and more than 7500 people who may have been exposed tested negative for coronavirus.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in the post-Cabinet press conference yesterday the Government hadn’t spoken to Chinese authorities but were working to get to the bottom of it.

O’Connor said he’d been updated this morning that there was still no evidence New Zealand meat was the source of the positive test results – but that it was stored with products from Latin America.

“No links to us.”

He didn’t think the reporting would have an adverse affect on the perception of New Zealand products in international markets.

In the year to September, New Zealand exported $3.17 billion of meat and offal to China, making it the country’s largest meat export market, according to Statistics New Zealand.

“I think we’ve been very upfront with all our trading partners, they understand our Covid situation,” said O’Connor.

“Clearly we’re continuing to trade goods but with goods from elsewhere in the world there’s a high likelihood that they might get contaminated.”

O’Connor said he was taking the reporting at face value and there was nothing to indicate it was China retaliating against something the New Zealand Government had done.

O’Connor said New Zealand had no ability to control other countries’ importing procedures so our exports would continue to be mixed with those from other countries where the pandemic was rampant.

He said the Government was looking into whether goods imported to New Zealand needed to be swabbed for Covid-19.

Early investigations suggested the likelihood of traces of the virus being transferred from frozen goods was “very, very low”.

“But you can probably find traces of DNA material if you really looked from countries where it’s rampant.”

The World Health Organisation advises there is no evidence that food or the food chain can transmit the virus.

“People should not fear food, or food packaging or processing or delivery of food,” WHO’s head of emergencies programme Mike Ryan told a briefing in Geneva.

“I would hate to think that we would create an impression that there’s a problem with our food or there’s a problem with our food chains.”

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said China had tested hundreds of thousands of packages and “found very, very few, less than 10” were positive for Covid-19.

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