Chinese Customs finds traces of COVID-19 on Indonesian, Russian seafood packaging

China’s Customs authorities have announced the discovery of traces of COVID-19 on the packaging of seafood originating from Indonesia and Russia.

A shipment of frozen hairtail shipped by Medan City, Indonesia-based Pt. Putri Indah was held by the General Administration of Customs after its packaging was found to contain traces of the novel coronavirus. In response, China has announced that imports from the firm will be barred for a week, according to the Announcement No. 103 from the Chinese Customs Administration.

Indonesia’s Fisheries Ministry said it had also suspended exports from the company into China and that it had launched an investigation into the issue, according to Reuters. The ministry said the virus was detected on the outermost side of the package and not on the fish. It said the problem was thus far contained to just Pt. Putri Indah – which declined to issue a comment when contacted by Reuters – and that other seafood companies can “still do export activities as usual.”

On 11 September, China’s Customs officials stated the agency had instituted a policy of weeklong suspensions of imports for any companies whose products tested positive for the coronavirus for the first or second time, and would impose a month-long ban for subsequent positive tests.

Customs authorities in China’s Jilin Province also reported a positive test result for packaging of squid imported from Russia, Reuters reported. The squid was tested in the city of Fuyu, and traveled through the provincial capital of Changchun, the Fuyu city health office announced on Sunday, 20 September. The office urged those who may have come into contact with the packaging, which was sold between 24 and 31 August at the Sanjia Deda frozen seafood wholesale shop, to seek out testing for the coronavirus.

The squid was imported from Russia by a Hunchun City-based importer, and Chinese Customs has not yet announced any trading bans for any companies responsible for selling the product.

The two announcements come as Chinese imports of seafood are ramping up in advance of the so-called “two festivals” period, with the National Day holiday starting on 1 October traditionally a peak consumption period for seafood in China.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when China was the epicenter of the outbreak of the disease, Indonesia’s government had called for a total ban on inbound Chinese imports and tourists, much to the chagrin of the Beijing authorities. The country’s lopsided trade relationship – in China’s favor – has been a source of tension in Indonesia which, like India, has sought to increase shipments of seafood to balance imports of Chinese manufactured goods.

Previously this summer, Chinese authorities reported a linkage between imported salmon and a COVID-19 outbreak at the Xinfadi seafood market, and announced it had found COVID-19 on the packaging of Ecuadorian shrimp. While the World Health Organization said it had no evidence of COVID-19 being spread by food or packaging, the new announcements linking COVID-19 and seafood is likely to further dent the confidence of the Chinese populace in the safety of imported seafood.

In a statement, John Connelly, the president of the National Fisheries Institute, the primary trade group for the U.S. seafood industry, said it will "continue to emphasize to buyers and consumers that there is no evidence of COVID-19 being spread by food or food packaging."

"Food safety authorities globally are confident in the food supply chain and the World Health Organization says testing of food or food surfaces for the virus is not recommended," Connelly said. "Seafood is a safe and wholesome food with nutritional benefits that contribute to a strong immune system. Seafood remains an important part of a healthy diet."

Photo courtesy of RR/Shutterstock


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