China bars three more foreign seafood firms on COVID-19 detection claims

An office of the Chinese Administration of Customs.

Any hope that China has stopped barring foreign seafood exporters from shipping goods on COVID-19 grounds appear to have been dashed with the China Administration of Customs announcing new bans.  

Three more international firms have been barred from doing business in China, the Chinese Administration of Customs reported. Korean-based firm Dai Han Fisheries Co Ltd., Indonesian firm Pt. Rembang Sportindo Mandiri, and  Vietnam-based processing firm An Thinh Trung Seafood Joint Stock Co have all had export permits for China suspended. The bans are based on “video examination” of the three firms’ facilities and, according to the statement from Customs, the ban is based on “guidance” from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

An FAO guidance document published in August 2021 offers advice on how to prevent COVID-19 from being a risk to workers in food processing and in the food cold chain. It stresses that COVID-19 is not a direct food safety concern, and that the spread is from person-to-person.

The bans came as authorities in the island province of Hainan blamed fishery imports for an outbreak of COVID-19 in the province that caused travel chaos. 

The province's fishery ports – a key base for Chinese fishing operations in the South China Sea – are on "static management" or lockdown until 22 August, according to Chinese state media. The People's Daily described the outbreak in the coastal city of Sanya as "likely triggered by imports through the fishery trade" but hasn't specified the source of the fishery products.

Some 8,883 COVID-19 cases were reported in Hainan in the past week, but the epidemic is generally "under control," Hainan authorities said at a press briefing on 15 August. The authorities didn’t offer any details on precisely how the Covid outbreak is related to fishery imports.

China has been connecting COVID-19 to seafood imports dating back to early in the pandemic, first reporting a supposed connection between the virus and imported salmon in June 2020. The country introduced added inspections on seafood that resulted in severe customs slowdowns. Later in 2020 seafood markets in some of China’s largest cities began barring vendors from selling or stocking all imported seafood due to supposed connections between imported seafood and the spread of COVID-19 – despite the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Agriculture continuously assuring that COVID-19 doesn’t spread via food.   

Despite the assurance China has continued to connect COVID-19 and seafood imports, barring firms from shipping to China earlier this year. Chinese state media has also released outlandish stories claiming that the entire COVID-19 pandemic originated from imports of lobster from the U.S. state of Maine – despite evidence the virus likely originated from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

Earlier this month, three other seafood firms were also barred from the Chinese market, with China claiming that the ban was also based on the FAO guidelines. That ban concerned Brazilian firm C Norte Pescados Ltda., Indian exporter M/s. Sagar Samrat Seafoods, and Indonesian firm PT. Cilacap Samudera Fishing Industry. Also impacted was the Vietnamese firm Bahai Jsc.

China reportedly dropped its policy of barring shipments from Vietnamese seafood companies upon detection of COVID-19 on packaging in July – reports that appear false considering the new bans.  

Photo courtesy of People's Republic of China General Administration of Customs


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