US meat industry puzzled by China's import ban for 1 plant

FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2006, file photo, a car passes in front of a Tyson Foods Inc., sign at Tyson headquarters in Springdale, Ark. China's decision to ban imports from a single Tyson Foods poultry plant because of concerns about a coronavirus outbreak there puzzled many in the meat industry and raised concerns about whether this could threaten a major market for U.S. meat. The action China's customs agency took against the Tyson plant in Springdale, Arkansas, could have major implications for the meat industry if it were expanded because dozens of beef, pork and poultry plants have had outbreaks of the coronavirus among their workers.(AP Photo/April L. Brown, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 29, 2006, file photo, a car passes in front of a Tyson Foods Inc., sign at Tyson headquarters in Springdale, Ark. China's decision to ban imports from a single Tyson Foods poultry plant because of concerns about a coronavirus outbreak there puzzled many in the meat industry and raised concerns about whether this could threaten a major market for U.S. meat. The action China's customs agency took against the Tyson plant in Springdale, Arkansas, could have major implications for the meat industry if it were expanded because dozens of beef, pork and poultry plants have had outbreaks of the coronavirus among their workers.(AP Photo/April L. Brown, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

OMAHA, Neb. – China's decision to ban imports from a single Tyson Foods poultry plant where there was a coronavirus outbreak has raised concerns about the implications on the U.S. meat industry if the action is expanded to other plants.

Chinese customs officials didn't hint about expanding the ban in a short statement it issued about suspending imports from the plant in Springdale, Arkansas. The country imposed a similar ban last week on pork imports from a German plant where a number of workers tested positive for COVID-19, but it hasn’t taken action against other U.S. beef, pork and poultry plants that have seen outbreaks among workers.

Jim Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, said he hopes the move won’t hurt the overall relationship with China, which had been improving after a new trade deal was signed early this year.

“Hopefully it’s not going to mean anything,” Sumner said. “If it remains at just one plant, it will not have any meaningful impact, but we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

A U.S. Agriculture Department spokesman said Monday that there is no evidence of the virus being transmitted by food or food packaging.

“This action by the Chinese is completely unjustified,” National Chicken Council spokesman Tom Super said.

Sumner said the time it takes for meat produced in the United States to reach China would make it especially difficult for any virus to survive.

“It’s not transmissible in meat," he said. “Plus, that product is frozen and spends 30 days in a container en route to China. So there is zero possibility of a live virus from the US showing up in frozen poultry as it has been shipped by ocean carrier halfway around the world.”