Seven Argentine meat plants suspend exports to China over COVID-19 worries

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Seven Argentine meat processing plants are temporarily not exporting to China because they have registered cases of COVID-19 among their employees, a source from the Argentine agricultural health agency Senasa said on Thursday.

The source, who asked not to be named, said three of the seven processing plants were likely to resume shipping to China again in the coming days.

China is the main buyer of beef from Argentina. Last year the South American country sent China 75% of the total 845,900 tonnes of beef it shipped internationally.

Both countries have agreed that, if a case of COVID-19 was registered in an Argentine meat packing plant, it would stop its shipments until Senasa and Chinese officials authorize their reinstatement.

“There are seven plants temporarily suspended,” the Senasa source told Reuters.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 11 Argentine plants have of the 96 authorized to ship to China have halted supplying the commodities-hungry nation due to COVID-19 contagion. Suspensions usually last about a week.

China has intensified its sanitary controls after finding traces of the virus in frozen chicken from Brazil and in food packaging samples from Ecuador.

However, compared to Brazil and Ecuador, Argentina has registered a significantly lower number of infections and deaths from the disease due to strong quarantine measures.

In Argentina 268,574 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed so far, of which 5,246 have been fatal, according to the health ministry. Argentina has a population of about 45 million people.

Reporting by Maximilian Heath, writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by David Gregorio