Trade

China to scrutinise US beef system over potential supply

Jon Condon, 17/06/2014
US MEF chief executive Phil Seng

US MEF  president Phil Seng

Reports suggest a Chinese food safety agency delegation will visit the US next week to scrutinise US beef production systems, as both sides continue to discuss increased trade to help shore-up China’s growing beef shortage.

The news came as the biennial World Meat Congress drew to a close in Beijing yesterday.

US Meat Export Federation president Phil Seng confirmed the visit and told media he was confident that the audit would result in increased access for US beef into China.

China currently has an outright ban on US beef imports, on the basis of the 2003 detection of BSE in the US, however considerable quantities of US beef are slipped over the border from neighbouring Vietnam under the so-called ‘grey trade.’

“It looks quite optimistic. Our expectation is that hopefully this is the time that something positive will happen,” Mr Seng told US industry website, www.meatingplace.com.

Reports said there was no clear timetable for a reopening, as the Chinese delegation from Beijing’s Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine would have to develop a report on its findings after the two-week US tour. But Mr Seng said he believed it would happen “in the near future.”

China’s AQSIQ team will apparently undertake a two-week visit that will begin with a USDA briefing in Washington and include trips to Texas and California to tour ranches, slaughterhouses and feed mills.

Meatingplace said the expectation at this point was that China would begin with a staggered protocol, initially allowing imports of bone-in and boneless beef from US cattle 30 months of age or younger. Washington and the beef industry for years angled for nothing but full access without age restriction, but that approach never worked, it said.

“There’s a realisation that in all these different countries there is a different rulemaking process, and we have to be somewhat sensitive to those processes,” Mr Seng said.

He said the Chinese government acknowledged in meetings over the past week that China had a beef shortage of one million tonnes. “One million tonnes is a huge appetizer for us as far as taking a look at this market.”

Comments attributed to Mr Seng made no mention of how the US might propose to manage China’s heightened sensitivity to the presence of HGP in beef, which sparked a significant upgrade of protocols out of Australia in May.

Since May 8, Australian beef exports to China have carried much tighter controls to ensure all product is HGP-free, in accordance with long-standing Chinese requirements.

The move in no way reflects a change of policy over HGP out of China, but the recent action was implemented by the Australian Department of Agriculture, in response to dialogue with Chinese food safety authorities who sought greater levels of assurance over HGP-freedom in Australian beef exports, in order to demonstrate compliance with China’s long-standing HGP residue requirements.

China’s long-standing policy classifies synthetic HGPs (including trenbolone acetate and zeranol) as ‘veterinary drugs prohibited for use and that must not be detected in animal derived food,’ while classifying natural HGPs (estradiol, progesterone and testosterone) as ‘veterinary drugs allowed for therapeutic use, but must not be detected in animal-derived food.’

Chinese authorities now conduct port-of-entry testing for HGP residues in Australian beef consignments. Any detection of a synthetic hormone, or a detection of a naturally-occurring hormone at levels higher than the normal physiological levels found in an animal will result in rejection of the consignment and possible de-listing of the Australian plant.

To moderate risk, the response from most, if not all Australian exporters supplying the Chinese market has been to partition supply to China exclusively to non-implanted cattle.

With the overwhelming majority of fed cattle in the US receiving an HGP implant, it would be much harder for the US industry to find large volumes on non-implanted beef suitable for export to China, analysts have said recently  – unless China was to make some significant changes to its regulations.

  • See this morning’s separate article on WA processor, V&V Walsh’s joint venture with Chinese interests.

 

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