China has suspended poultry imports from a Tyson Foods plant in the United States because of concerns about an outbreak of coronavirus at the facility.
The country’s General Administration of Customs on Sunday said that Tyson confirmed a “cluster of Covid-19 infections among employees recently” at the plant, which it identified only by a registration number.
Asked for comment, Tyson did not say which plant the Chinese government was referring to — though the company told other media outlets that the announcement pertained to a plant on Berry Street in Springdale, Arkansas. The US Department of Agriculture has also used the same number to refer to a poultry plant at that location.
Tyson did not immediately respond to a request for further details.
The US company announced Friday that 481 of its workers recently tested positive for coronavirus at locations in Arkansas, nearly half of whom were at the Springdale plant. More than 3,700 people were tested in total, and all but 26 of the people who tested positive had no symptoms.
“We are confident our products are safe and we’re hopeful consultations between the US and Chinese governments will resolve this matter,” Tyson said in a statement to CNN Business.
The decision by China comes as the country continues to deal with fallout from a Covid-19 outbreak originally linked to a wholesale food market in Beijing. Traces of the virus were reportedly detected in multiple environment samples taken from the market, including on a chopping board used by a seller of imported salmon, though there are concerns that the virus had been quietly spreading for weeks before it was first detected.
Tyson pointed out in its statement that the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Department of Agriculture and the US Food and Drug Administration all agree that “there is no evidence to support transmission of Covid-19 associated with food.” But Chinese health officials have warned that the virus could be “hidden” on packaging of imported frozen food products and vowed to strengthen inspections of all shipments from overseas.
Overseas food facilities aren’t China’s only concern. PepsiCo (PEP) said Sunday that it shut down a factory in Beijing after reporting eight cases of coronavirus. The factory made potato chips. Pepsi said there have been no cases at its bottling facilities in the country.
China, meanwhile, is an important market for Tyson, and it’s unclear how much the country may still be importing from the company’s other plants. The company in February said that Chinese orders for pork increased nearly 600% in its fiscal first quarter compared to a year earlier.
Tyson also said at the time that it expected Chinese imports of US chicken to double after an outbreak of African swine fever ravaged China’s pig population last year, forcing customers to look for meat alternatives.
That outbreak was widely seen as a factor in pushing China last November to lift an import ban on US poultry as Beijing and Washington negotiated compromises ahead of January’s phase one trade agreement. Chinese authorities said that lifting the ban could help the country meet the demand for meat.
US chicken imports were banned in China in 2015 because of an outbreak of bird flu in the United States. Two years earlier, the United States exported more than $500 million worth of poultry to the country, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.
Tyson, meanwhile, said in February that it was still at a pricing disadvantage in China because of tariffs.
“If tariffs are lifted or reduced, we would likely see an acceleration of already increased global demand for US pork, beef and chicken,” the company said.
– Philip Wang and Hira Humayun contributed to this report.