Argentina says China has found coronavirus trace on beef shipment packaging

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine authorities said on Thursday that they had been informed about an alleged finding by China of traces of COVID-19 on the external packaging of a shipment of the South American country’s beef.

China is the main buyer of beef from Argentina’s famed ranchers, which in the first nine months of the year sent almost three-quarters of the 645,000 tons exported by the South American country to the Asian nation, official data show.

Senasa, the Argentine government food safety body, said it requested “information on the alleged finding be expanded because it was not made by Chinese Customs in the entry of merchandise, but in a cold storage where it had been transferred before its final distribution.”

The agency said that the meat in the packaging met all sanitary standards and that it is the first time that a case of this type has been registered with an Argentine product. It added it was conducting an investigation in Argentina into the matter.

“The shipment had entered through the port of Shanghai. On November 9, a part of it was transferred and deposited in a cold storage in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu (province). On November 10, prior to its release to the market, the CDC Nanjing authorities carried out tests,” Senasa said.

Argentina’s ABC meat export industry group, which brings together meat processing plants that produce for foreign markets, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Argentina and China have a previous agreement that if a case of COVID-19 is registered in an Argentine plant, it would halt shipments and request to be suspended by Beijing from the list of companies authorized to export to China until Senasa and then the Asian country had authorized the plant’s reinstatement.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Cynthia Osterman