China suspends bulk of Dutch pork imports after COVID-19 outbreaks

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - China has halted almost all imports of pork from the Netherlands, apparently motivated by COVID-19 outbreaks at some of the largest Dutch slaughterhouses.

FILE PHOTO: An employee chops pork meat at the Xinfadi wholesale market, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Beijing, China February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

China banned meat delivered by four of the largest Dutch abattoirs as of Sunday, Dutch government spokeswoman Elise van den Bosch said on Tuesday.

China gave no specific reason for the June 28 ban, but workers at all of the four abattoirs have recently been infected with the new coronavirus, she said.

“Clearly, China is looking for the source of its second wave of COVID-19 infections, which they might feel could come from imported meat”, Van den Bosch said.

“But there is no scientific evidence for the possible transmission of the virus through food or packaging materials.”

Slaughterhouses in the Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe, are mainly operated by migrant workers, who work close to each other and often share cramped housing facilities. This has led to large coronavirus outbreaks at many of them in recent months.

The four companies affected by the ban normally deliver the bulk of the pork shipped from the Netherlands to China.

Dutch pork exports to China ran to a total of 299,000 tonnes last year, with a total value of 335 million euros ($376 million).

Van den Bosch said the Dutch government would be willing to cooperate on Chinese demands for further inspections of the slaughterhouses.

“In other European countries this has been done by installing video cameras”, she said. “We would be willing to cooperate with such a request.”

($1 = 0.8917 euros)

Reporting by Bart Meijer, Editing by William Maclean