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Chinese authorities say coronavirus found in Brazilian poultry

. Aug 13, 2020
chicken Chinese authorities say coronavirus found in Brazilian poultry Photo: Sergey Bogdanov/Shutterstock

The Chinese municipality of Shenzhen announced they have found traces of the coronavirus in frozen chicken wings imported from Brazil. Despite no public indication of bans of Brazilian animal products, the report causes concern in local authorities. Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry is treating the case as an “alleged contamination,” adding that the country hasn’t received any official warning. In a statement, Brazilian authorities say they are “looking for official information to clarify the circumstances of the alleged contamination.”

</p> <p>According to pro-Beijing newspaper South China Morning Post, the virus was found on the surface of a frozen chicken wing. The discovery happened on Wednesday, during a routine inspection. Every staff member who had contact with the product was tested, but all results reportedly came back negative.</p> <p>Chinese authorities also announced the detection of the coronavirus on packages of frozen shrimp from Ecuador. Recently, sanitary authorities also have been finding the coronavirus in other seafood products.</p> <p>“Shenzhen will continue to track and test all relevant frozen foods. The government also would like to remind residents to be cautious when purchasing imported frozen meat and seafood,” said the Shenzhen Municipal Health Commission, as reported by the <a href="https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3097198/authorities-southern-china-find-coronavirus-frozen-chicken-wings">South China Morning Post</a>. The commission did not name the brand in question. However, according to Brazilian news website G1, the <a href="https://g1.globo.com/economia/agronegocios/noticia/2020/08/13/china-detecta-coronavirus-em-frango-importado-do-brasil.ghtml">contaminated batch</a> comes from a slaughterhouse owned by food company Aurora, located in the southern state of Santa Catarina.</p> <p>The Agriculture Ministry says it is investigating the case. The Brazilian Association of Animal Protein (ABPA) said in a statement that &#8220;it remains unclear where the possible contamination might have occurred —&nbsp;and whether it happened during transportation.&#8221;&nbsp;</p> <p>The ABPA also stresses that the risk of Covid-19 transmission via food products is negligible. They take their cue from the World Health Organization, which put out a statement on April 7 downplaying the chances of food-to-human contamination. “There is no evidence to date of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses being transmitted via food or food packaging. Coronaviruses cannot multiply on food; they need an animal or human host to multiply.”</p> <p>However, the WHO reinforced the need for measures to protect food workers. “It is imperative for the food industry to reinforce personal hygiene measures and provide refresher training on food hygiene principles to eliminate or reduce the risk of food surfaces and food packaging materials becoming contaminated with the virus from food workers.”</p> <h2>Slaughterhouses a hotbed for coronavirus</h2> <p>This is the first time that products from Brazilian food processing plants have been flagged for coronavirus contamination, but such concerns are not new. Six Brazilian slaughterhouses are already banned from selling to Chinese customers, due to worries about contamination among the plant&#8217;s staff. Four such facilities are located in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which neighbors Santa Catarina, from where the contaminated chicken reportedly originated.</p> <p>The pandemic continues to rage across Brazil, with over 104,000 deaths and 3.1 million confirmed cases. And the <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/05/30/role-meat-plants-coronavirus-spread-brazil-countryside/">meat industry shoulders some of the blame</a> for the spread, as slaughterhouses increase hazards of coronavirus transmission. Production sites are made up of closed, refrigerated spaces, with ventilation systems built to avoid external contamination. These factories see hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers side by side, manipulating animal protein.</p> <p>By June 16, at least <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/06/04/more-legal-beef-for-brazilian-meat-producer-jbs/">47 abattoirs in 17 states</a> had been shut down by the Agriculture Ministry due to the coronavirus. The looming crisis could have massive repercussions across the globe, as Brazil is the world’s largest meat exporter.</p> <p>Priscila Dibi Schvarcz, the labor prosecutor responsible for monitoring the industry during the pandemic, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that since the beginning of the pandemic, agreements for improvements had been made. So far, all over the country, 94 plant managers accepted the commitment to implement stricter sanitary protocols, but still she sees much room for improvement.</p> <p>“An effective investment in health management is necessary. We have shortcomings related to active surveillance: early removal of infected people, effective daily active searches, testing routines for asymptomatic, pre-symptomatic [patients],” said Ms. Schvarcz.</p> <p>Regarding the alleged chicken-related contamination in China, the ABPA declined to comment, saying the association is still seeking more information — but arguing that all the right measures have been taken since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis. “The Brazilian meat-exporting sector reaffirms that all measures to protect workers and guarantee the safety of products have been adopted and improved over the past few months, since the beginning of the global pandemic.”</p> <h2>Brazilian relations with China</h2> <p>Trade between Brazil and China is as dynamic as ever, thanks in large part to agricultural commodities such as soybeans and meat. Between January and June, the Asian giant gobbled up 34 percent of Brazil&#8217;s overall exports. And chicken exports from Brazil are booming — amounting to USD 788 million between January and July.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/3462560" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/3462560/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>But as of recently, relations between Brazil and its biggest trading partner have been tepid at best —&nbsp;and contentious at worst.&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/08/03/trade-pandemic-makes-brazil-even-more-reliant-on-china/">growing dependence on China</a>, the Brazilian government has been adopting an unabashed pro-U.S. stance since Jair Bolsonaro took office. Among his supporters and close allies, anti-China sentiment is rife. The latest example of this came with the country’s support for a proposal by the U.S. at the World Trade Organization that was essentially a broadside directed at Beijing.</p> <p>This anti-China stance — following the cues of U.S. President Donald Trump — has led to several warnings from the Chinese embassy to Brazilian authorities that feuds could impact the countries&#8217; trading relations.

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José Roberto Castro

José Roberto covers politics and economics and is finishing a Master's Degree in Media and Globalization. Previously, he worked at Nexo Jornal and O Estado de S. Paulo.

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