China suspends imports of Ecuador shrimp

12 July, 2020 12:00 AM printer

BEIJING: China’s customs authority said on Friday it was suspending imports from three shrimp producers in Ecuador after detecting the new coronavirus in recent shipments.

It said samples taken from shipments from Industrial Pesquera Santa Priscila SA, Empacreci SA and Empacadora Del Pacifico Sociedad Anonima Edpacif had produced six positive results. However, tests on the frozen shrimp and inner packaging were negative, report agencies.

The companies did not respond to requests for comment.

The findings are the first positive results announced by Beijing since it began testing imported frozen foods for presence of the virus.

“After nucleic acid sequence analysis and expert judgement, the test results suggested that the container environment and the outer packaging of the goods of the three companies were at risk of contamination by the new coronavirus, and the companies’ food safety management system was not in order,” the General Administration of Customs said in a statement on its website.

China began testing imported fresh and frozen food after the coronavirus was found on a chopping board used to cut salmon at a large food market in Beijing during an outbreak of coronavirus among workers there.

Though experts have said there is no evidence the virus can be spread through food, many Chinese buyers have halted imports of salmon and the fish has been removed from supermarket shelves.

It has taken a total of 227,934 samples to date, Bi Kexin, in charge of food imports at the customs authority, told reporters at a briefing on Friday, including from the food products, their packaging and environmental samples.

The positive results were picked up on July 3 from cargoes at Dalian and Xiamen ports. The product had likely spent at least a month frozen in the container to reach China, said Gorjan Nikolik, seafood analyst at Rabobank.

“Experts believe that the results do not mean they are contagious but that the companies’ food safety management systems are not well implemented,” Bi told reporters.

Ecuador’s minister of production and foreign trade, Ivan Ontaneda, who also oversees the fishing industry, said the country’s shrimp producers follow strict biosecurity protocols.

“This is not a sanction against the product, it is not a sanction against Ecuadorean shrimp, nor is it a sanction against the country,” Ontaneda said in a virtual press conference.

The customs authority said it was suspending imports from the three shrimp producers to protect consumer health and “eliminate hidden dangers”.

It has also ordered shrimps produced by the three firms after March 12 and already imported into China to be recalled or destroyed.

Ecuador is the world’s second largest shrimp exporter after India and the top supplier to China, where it ships about 70% of its product, said Nikolik.

Sales to the Asian nation have boomed in recent years, thanks to Ecuador’s less intensive production model that produces shrimp with clean, appealing shells sought out by Chinese consumers who typically purchase the seafood with the head and shell on.