China asks Brazil to stop exports from two meat plants over coronavirus worries, source says

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The Chinese government has asked Brazil to suspend exports from two meat plants over concerns about novel coronavirus outbreaks in food-processing facilities in the South American country, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

China has already blocked exports from six meatpacking plants in Brazil, the world’s second-hardest-hit country in the pandemic, with nearly 2 million cases of the respiratory disease.

Of the two additional plants China would like to block, one produces beef and the other processes poultry, the person said, on condition of anonymity.

China is the largest buyer of Brazilian beef, chicken and pork.

Brazilian newspaper Valor Econômico earlier reported the request, without citing a source.

Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The request, delivered in a letter to the Brazilian Embassy in Beijing, has yet to arrive in Brazil for the government to consider a response, the source said.

Brazilian Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias has said there is no evidence the coronavirus is transmitted in food.

The letter from the Chinese authorities requested information related to 12 other meat plants, seeking to find out whether media reports of coronavirus outbreaks in those facilities were true, the person said.

Lobby group ABPA said the meat industry was taking precautions and had introduced protocols on March 12 to combat the spread of the virus in plants. It disputed data released by labor prosecutors on outbreaks in plants.

“The virus was not born in a meat plant. Meat plants have been demonized,” Francisco Turra, ABPA president, told a news conference on Wednesday.

He said using only rapid testing to gauge meat plant infections distorted reality, as they are not as accurate as PCR molecular testing.

The Brazilian government has requested that Chinese authorities reverse the bans officially in place, Turra said, adding suspensions were unjustified.

Reporting by Jake Spring and Ana Mano; Editing by Peter Cooney