• Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

Two Australian abattoirs delisted from selling meat to China when workers contracted COVID-19 are still waiting to resume the trade


May 27, 2021

Two Australian abattoirs delisted from selling meat to China when workers contracted COVID-19 are still waiting to resume the trade, despite China allowing other meatworks around the world to resume trade in similar circumstances.

Key points:

  • Eight Australian abattoirs have been banned from selling meat to China over past year
  • They include two Victorian plants that voluntarily delisted when staff contracted COVID-19
  • The industry hopes to reinstate trade with China after red meat sales fell by 42pc year on year

The Australian Lamb Company (ALC) at Colac and JBS Brooklyn in Melbourne’s west voluntarily stopped sending meat to China last July in a move replicated by similarly affected meat processors around the globe.

The Australian Meat Industry Council (AMIC) says both plants have been cleared of COVID and have been seeking to resume trade with China for the past six months.

The wait has one industry analyst questioning if it is being driven by politics.

AMIC chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said Australia followed China’s protocols when the abattoirs voluntarily delisted.

“The two plants in Victoria, suspended under China’s protocol, are yet to be re-assigned their licence from that time,” he said.

“Under China’s protocol, you had to self-report.

“Unfortunately, we have seen many other companies in nations around the world get back into [China] or have their temporary suspension lifted, but at this stage for these two Australian-based companies, that still hasn’t occurred yet.”

Mr Hutchinson said all the necessary information had been with China for six months.

“So one day, we hope it will be reviewed and it will be rectified.

“There were many other nations that also had some difficulty — Australia is not on its own — but we’re certainly one of the slowest in the turnaround to get those temporary suspensions lifted.”

Meat industry analyst Simon Quilty said since July last year, 103 meat plants worldwide had been banned from trade with China due to COVID-19 and almost 50 had since resumed.

“That only happens with China inviting them back into the market,” Mr Quilty said.

‘Difficult to understand’

He said the industry was battling to understand what was driving China’s decision process.

“There is probably a fair degree of politics involved in the decision making,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to understand given all of these plants, those in Australia in particular, have gone to enormous measures to ensure that they’re compliant and everything is fine.

“So, there is no doubt that the difficulty between the two governments has been problematic.

“I believe in ensuring that these plants, and others, will be re-listed back into China will be difficult in this environment.”

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the federal government was pushing for the reinstatement of the trade.

“We’re disappointed that exports from two Victorian facilities have not been recommenced,” Mr Littleproud said.

“The Australian government is continuing to press for re-listing of the establishments through our officials in the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment and our embassy.”

The ABC understands Melbourne-based Cedar Meats, which was at the centre of a cluster of coronavirus cases last May, was not affected by China’s decision to block imports from COVID-infected meatworks.

This month marks one year since China suspended beef imports from four Australian abattoirs.

Subsequently, meatworks in NSW and Queensland were also blocked by Beijing over labelling and contamination concerns.

Red meat sales from Australia to China were down 42 per cent year on year to the end of April.

The Department of Agriculture Water and Environment says 36 Australian abattoirs are currently eligible to trade with China.

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