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Reported ractopamine finding locks third pork company out of China

The CFIA is investigating the Chinese claim that a pork shipment tested positive for ractopamine

The pork industry says it’s too soon to say the trade spat with China is leaking over into its sector.

It’s awaiting the results of a CFIA investigation, launched after a third Canadian company was suspended from exporting pork to China.

On June 18, news dropped that China would be temporarily suspending imports from Quebec packing and export company Frigo Royal Inc., after Chinese officials reported ractopamine residue in one shipment of pork.

Why it matters: News of a third Canadian pork exporter getting locked out of China has led some to speculate whether those issues are linked to tensions between the two countries. The pork sector is less eager to link the two.

China has a standing ban on the additive, used to improve energy uptake from feed and approved by Health Canada for use in livestock. Canada’s pork industry, however, says it has largely weaned itself off of ractopamine, a move made to bolster business in markets where it is banned, such as China and the European Union.

“Pork producers don’t use it,” Canadian Pork Council director of government and corporate affairs Gary Stordy said. “Here in Canada, pork producers shipping to federally inspected plants don’t use that and subscribe to the Ractopamine-Free Certification Program that says we don’t use it and there are steps to ensure that it doesn’t come near hogs.”

The CFIA program includes feed mills, farms, assembly yards, slaughter facilities and cutting and storage facilities. Over 300 feed facilities are registered with the program.

The CFIA has since launched an investigation into China’s ractopamine finding from Frigo Royal.

“We’re waiting the outcome,” Stordy said, adding that he is reluctant to speculate further until the investigation is complete.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, meanwhile, says they have not yet seen China’s proof of a positive ractopamine test.

The additive is “used safely in Canada,” she said, arguing that China’s ractopamine ban is “inconsistent with the international standards.”

“The suspension is limited to one pork-processing facility only,” she said in an emailed statement. “The export of Canadian meat products to China from all other eligible facilities continues. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is investigating the situation and we are working closely with the affected facility and industry partners to ensure the continuation of trade in high-quality pork products.”

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The Canadian government was told of the incoming suspension June 14, Bibeau confirmed.

Frigo Royal is now the third company to run afoul of Chinese restrictions. In April, China levelled import licence suspensions at Olymel LP and Drummond Export, problems that were later attributed to labelling errors in the customs paperwork.

To Stordy’s knowledge, those suspensions are still in place.

More recently, China announced June 4 that it would ramp up inspections up to 100 per cent for Canadian meat and meat products thanks to “recent cases of non-compliance of pork shipments,” Reuters reported.

Media quickly linked those moves to Canada’s ongoing trade issues with China, issues that came to a head in March when China suspended canola seed import licences for Richardson International and Viterra, putting a virtual stop to all Canadian canola seed shipment to China.

The industry, however, has been less quick to make such a connection.

“For us on the pork side, we do have to pay attention to signals, but at the same time, it is a clear indication that in our industry we have to make sure we’re doing what we say and have the information to prove it,” Stordy said.

The Canadian Meat Council released a memo after China announced the inspection crackdown, urging members to pay special attention to compliance, according to Reuters.

The Chinese pork market is big business for Manitoba companies. HyLife Foods, in particular, has dug a foothold in the Chinese market through its farm-to-fork model, a fact that seems unlikely to change once it finalizes sale of its controlling stock to Charoen Pokphand Foods (CPF).

HyLife Foods argued that the deal would help improve global sales when the sale was announced in April. The third-largest sow company in the world, CPF’s holdings include operations and hog barns in China.

Claude Vielfaure, one of HyLife’s founders and outgoing president, said he had no comment on the recent issues with Frigo Royal, and was reluctant to speak to his company’s feelings on Chinese trade issues, citing the political sensitivity of the issue.

Maple Leaf Foods, likewise, declined to comment, except to say that the company, “has high-quality pork that China needs.”

HyLife Foods’ feed mills in Killarney and La Broquerie, as well as five Maple Leaf Food locations in Manitoba, are listed with the CFIA’s list of certified ractopamine-free feed facilities.

ASF tightens borders

Stordy says China’s ramped-up meat inspections came as no surprise, given its struggles with African swine fever (ASF). In April, Rabobank estimated that China might lose 25-35 per cent of its pork production this year due to the disease.

“That is a production disease that is, frankly, spreading globally,” Stordy said, adding that the increased scrutiny is not unexpected as a management tool.

The disease has not yet been detected in Canada or the United States.

Canada has also ramped up vigilance at the border. Feed imported from ASF-positive countries must now pass through quarantine in a designated secondary control zone. In March, Canada announced up to $31 million to add more sniffer dog teams to airports, specifically to stop illegal meat imports. Canada also added travel restrictions for countries where ASF had been detected — no one travelling from those countries can set foot on a Canadian hog farm within two weeks of travel — and tightened its grasp on penalties, handing fines up to $1,300 out for undeclared meat.

But while the pork industry has been reluctant to link the suspensions with trade tensions, and while Chinese demand for pork remains strong with expected shortfalls from their own domestic supply, Stordy also said the industry does not feel insulated from the trade woes between China and Canada.

“We are exporting a significant amount of pork into China from a Canadian point of view,” he said. “When we look at overall, Chinese pork production, regardless of the decrease and what’s going on, as well as other imports, it’s minor.”

About the author

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Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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