June 17, 2021

Two Australian abattoirs that were delisted from selling meat to China after employees contracted Covid-19, are still waiting to resume the trade, according to reports.

This is despite the fact that China has allowed other meat businesses, from around the world, to resume trade in similar circumstances.

Eight Australian abattoirs have been banned from selling meat to China over the past year, which includes the two plants in Victoria that voluntarily delisted when staff contracted Covid-19.

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) said 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.

Patrick Hutchinson, chief executive of The Australian Meat Industry Council, said Australia followed China’s protocols when the abattoirs voluntarily delisted.

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

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,” Hutchinson said.

“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,” Quilty said.

He added that the industry was battling to understand what was driving China’s decision process in relation to the two Australian abattoirs that are still suspended from trading there.

“There is probably a fair degree of politics involved in the decision making,” Quilty 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 Australian Federal Government is pushing for the reinstatement of the trade.

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

“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 Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that 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 meat businesses.

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

Subsequently, meat businesses in New South Wales and Queensland were also blocked by Beijing over labelling and contamination concerns.

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

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

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