Sanford, Sealord products flagged by Chinese Customs

Published on
February 11, 2021

Two of New Zealand’s largest seafood companies have had shipments flagged by Chinese Customs.

China has temporarily blocked all imports of products from Sanford Ltd.’s Havelock mussels processing facility and Sealord Group’s Nelson facility that processes finfish and fishmeal for animal feeds, New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) said in a statement.

The suspension was due to “issues around the interpretation of the World Health Organization’s COVID guidance, and food safety management,” according to the ministry, which said it is seeking further clarification from Beijing. Chinese Customs authorities conducted live video audits in late January, but did not inform the two companies of their suspensions until Monday, 8 February, according to the ministry.

China has taken similar action against dozens of seafood companies from around the world in recent months, including Ecuadorian shrimp firms, Russian crab companies,  and Indonesian fish exporters, after claiming to have found traces of COVID-19 on the packaging of some items. China has also ramped up its food safety inspections of imported seafood, which has resulted in significant bottlenecks in Chinese ports.

Several importers bringing seafood into China have told SeafoodSource they’re frustrated by Chinese officials  linking seafood with COVID-19, which they said has resulted in much lower domestic demand. China’s seafood imports dropped significantly in 2020 and several representatives of international seafood firms trading in China have expressed pessimism their exports to China will return to normal anytime soon.

The World Health Organization has disputed China’s claims that COVID-19 can be spread via frozen food packaging. However, it may be considering a change in its approach, as a draft advisory notice obtained by the Wall Street Journal acknowledges COVID-19 can spread via the cold chain.

China’s latest move against Sealord and Sanford comes as a team of international scientists and medical experts are in Wuhan, China, on WHO fact-finding mission exploring the origins of the novel coronavirus.

Chinese officials and state-run media have promoted assertions COVID-19 originated outside of China, but rather was introduced into the country via imported seafood.

In response to a US government statement that it won’t accept any WHO findings without independent verification, Zeng Guang, the chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control, suggested an examination of American origins of the virus because "historically the United States … launched biological and chemical warfare."

Dominic Dwyer, a microbiologist and infectious diseases expert with New South Wales Health, and a member of the 14-person WHO team visiting China said he it was his belief the virus originated in China. He told Australian TV news there was “very limited” evidence the virus started elsewhere.

One U.S.-based virologist said he was surprised the WHO delegation raised the potential role of frozen seafood imports in spreading the virus in China. Jesse Bloom, a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told the Washington Post he was "surprised to see some members of the team dismiss the accidental lab leak theory while seeming to suggest, without any specific evidence, the possibility that frozen food might have played a role."

Photo courtesy of Alizada Studios/Shutterstock

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