China’s zero pathogen standard for meat seen as ‘unrealistic’

Jon Condon, 23/01/2013


A coalition of US trade associations including the American Meat Institute has called on the Chinese government to abandon plans for a zero tolerance policy for pathogens in both raw and cooked meat and poultry.

They group has recommended that China immediately rescind its notification to the World Trade Organisation which lays down strict – some say unattainable – new guidelines on pathogens such as salmonella, listeria and staphylococcus.

China has emerged as an exciting new market for Australian export beef over the past six months, with total exports for 2012 reaching 32,906t. That’s up a colossal 324pc on 2011 trade (7754t) – all the more remarkable given that the trade surge did not really start until July, after which four consecutive monthly records were set.

Somewhat surprisingly, the 2012 trade activity positions China as Australia’s sixth largest beef market for the year – bigger than both Indonesia and Russia, and not far behind Taiwan.

Compared with some other export rivals, Australia has relatively liberal access to the Chinese market, with 49 beef and sheepmeat processors approved for export.

Should China’s proposed new pathogen standards be enforced, however, meat samples detected with any trace of bacteria could lead to de-listing, in a worst case scenario.   

The US trade coalition has asked that China bring its pathogen limits for meat and poultry into line with international standards. For raw meat products, China should recognise that it is unattainable by any country to have a zero tolerance for pathogens, and should withdraw its proposed sampling plan for these products, the group has urged.

The coalition said the presence of bacteria such as salmonella and listeria is unavoidable during the conversion of live animals to food for human consumption. Good hygienic practices and microbial interventions can reduce their incidence to extremely low levels, but without the use of a ‘terminal eradication process’ or ‘kill-step’ such as cooking or irradiation, the absolute freedom of fresh meat from pathogenic bacteria cannot be guaranteed.

Consequently, China should recognise this and rescind from the proposed measure all zero tolerance requirements for pathogens on raw meat product – a standard the American Meat Institute says that no country in the world, including China, can meet. 

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities have approved four additional Canadian beef processing facilities for export, bringing to a total of seven approved facilities that can now ship to the Chinese market. After banning Canadian beef imports for BSE concerns in 2003, China agreed in 2011 to allow imports of Canadian boneless beef from animals less than 30 months of age under a staged market access approach. Canadian authorities say Canada is the first country affected by BSE to resume beef trade with China.

US beef still does not have access because of its BSE history.  


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