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Coronavirus

China places stricter rules on chicken imports, Brazil cries foul

Beijing fears coronavirus infection from frozen foods, but WHO says worry is unfounded

Chickens at a poultry factory in Brazil. The country's farm ministry says it is following strict standards to ensure public health.   © Reuters

DALIAN/ SAO PAOLO -- China has tightened controls over food imports, requiring Ecuador and other countries to step up inspections of frozen shrimp, chicken and other products as part of its measures against the spread of the coronavirus.

However, the theory that the virus is spread through the food chain has been called dubious by the World Health Organization, which has said there is no proof for such transmission.

Still, China's General Administration of Customs announced Friday stricter import measures for frozen shrimp from Ecuador. It requires local companies to receive certification from authorities in the importing country that strict sanitary controls are in place for production, packaging and transportation.

The move followed a Wednesday report in Chinese state media that said a city in eastern Anhui province found the novel coronavirus on the packaging of shrimp from Ecuador. People and the areas that came in contact with the packages tested negative for the virus.

China announced last month that it would temporarily stop importing food from 23 companies in countries such as Brazil, the U.S., Germany and the U.K. It suspended imports of frozen shrimp from some Ecuadorian companies and also requested a certifications for soy beans from Brazil and other countries to ensure they were not contaminated.

Chinese authorities say that the coronavirus has been detected in more than 10 packages of imported frozen food since last month. Another case was discovered in chicken from Brazil on Wednesday.

The novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease, is believed to have emerged in a seafood and wildlife market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

China has largely contained transmission of the virus in the past few weeks and has stepped up scrutiny of the virus entering the country from abroad.

Brazil's farm ministry responded Thursday, saying there is "no evidence that food or food packaging is infected with the coronavirus," citing the WHO position. The ministry argued that the country is "following strict standards to ensure public health," adding that it is now in talks with Chinese custom authorities.

The Philippines followed China with an announcement on Friday that it would also halt chicken imports from Brazil. The Brazilian Animal Protein Association criticized the decision the same day, arguing that "the import suspension is not a decision based on scientific facts."

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