China demands COVID-free food assurances

The Canada Grains Council say Canada and other exporting countries must start standing up to these kinds of demands

Ottawa needs to take a stand against non-science-based conditions of trade, says the chair of the Canada Grains Council.

Chinese importers of agricultural commodities recently started demanding that exporters around the world provide assurance that their food shipments are free of COVID-19.

Cam Dahl said this is happening despite assurances from groups like the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization that COVID is not spread by food or food packages.

This is just the latest example of countries erecting potential trade barriers that are not based on science.

“This is something that Canada needs to push back on whenever we see it,” he said.

Dahl said government entities like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have done a good job of working with industry on dealing with various phytosanitary issues that have arisen in markets around the world.

But Ottawa needs to start pushing back against nonsensical trade restrictions.

“We really do need a policy pivot,” he said.

“We’re going to see more and more of this. This is where the new barriers are going to come from.”

Dahl would like to see China and other importers taken to task by a number of exporting nations in front of the World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Committee for making such requests.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it is aware of the demands from Chinese trade associations and importers for a statement or a letter of attestation confirming exporters are following internationally recognized guidance for preventing the contamination of food products with COVID-19.

“Since these are industry-to-industry requests, the completion of these attestations is left to the discretion of exporters and/or Canadian stakeholders,” the CFIA said in an email.

The CFIA said it has provided detailed information to the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) regarding Canadian measures to protect food safety.

“There is no scientific evidence that food or food packaging is a source of transmission of COVID-19,” said the CFIA.

“We will continue engaging with Chinese counterparts to reassure them of the strong measures in place to ensure the safety of Canadian food and food products.”

The Canadian Meat Council says it adheres to rigorous, internationally accepted standards and food safety requirements and that its processing facilities are monitored by CFIA inspectors.

“We understand that GACC has updated their website to remove several establishments from around the world due to COVID-19 cases in plant employees,” the CMC said in an email.

The Cargill plant in High River, Alta., is the only Canadian establishment suspended from the list. The CFIA is seeking more information from the GACC on that suspension.

Dahl said complying with Chinese importer requests to certify food shipments as COVID-free is an individual exporter decision. Some are providing the assurance while others are not.

“It is my understanding that (Chinese officials) are actually testing imports for the presence of the virus,” he said.

This new import requirement is adding costs to the system and increases the risk of a shipment being rejected due to a false positive test.

The Canada Grains Council has asked the federal government to work with other exporting nations and with industry to provide a co-ordinated response to China’s latest potential trade barrier.

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