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Meat sector braces after halt to China trade

Livestock producers and meat processors are still determining the impact as China turns off the tap on all Canadian meat


It’s hard to say how much damage has been done since China announced its sudden aversion to Canadian meat.

“It’s a bit too soon to tell to get a real dollar figure on it, because it is a situation where, when we want to sell pork, we’re trying to maximize the value of that product,” Gary Stordy, Canadian Pork Council’s director of government and corporate affairs, said.

The pork sector is searching new markets after Canadian beef and pork exports to China ground to a halt last week. The pork market may not be getting the best value for its product as a result of that scramble, Stordy said.

Earlier in June, news broke that Quebec shipping and meat storage company Frigo Royal Inc. had been suspended from shipping pork into China, following ractopamine residues found in one pork shipment. The additive is used to improve leanness and is banned in places like China and Europe. Canadian Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau later said a CFIA investigation had been launched.

Why it matters: The sudden halt of Canadian meat to China hits hard at the Manitoba livestock sector, and pork producers particularly, while contributing to continuing trade tensions.

The report baffled the pork sector, which largely weaned itself off the additive years ago to boost trade in countries like China. Stordy pointed to the Ractopamine-Free Certification Program in place at federally inspected slaughter plants.

The situation came to a head early last week after the CFIA found faked export certificates. “This incident is specific to export certificates to China,” a statement from Bibeau’s office read. “Export certificates to other countries are not affected.”

On June 26, a spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy announced that China had asked Canada to suspend meat export certificates for all Canadian meat as of June 25. China had, “immediately suspended the import of pork products from the relevant enterprises,” following the ractopamine report, the spokesperson told reporters.

The Chinese Embassy says the investigation revealed that veterinary health certificates attached to the shipment were fake and that up to 188 forged certificates had been found, a number the CFIA had yet to confirm at the time of printing.

“These forged certificates were sent to the Chinese regulatory authorities through (the) Canadian official certificate notification channel,” the same Chinese Embassy spokesperson said, noting that revealed, “obvious safety loopholes,” in the Canadian meat export system.

The RCMP has since been brought in to investigate the fake paperwork’s origin. There were no further updates as of print deadline.

Neither the federal government nor the pork sector is convinced, however, that the shipment originated in Canada at all.

“When it comes to ractopamine, that was our first flag, when there was a positive test,” Stordy said. “The pork industry doesn’t use that and goes to great lengths to make sure that it doesn’t come into contact with live animals so that we don’t have cross-contamination.”

Bibeau and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr took a similar stance last week.

“Somebody is trying to use the Canadian brand to move product into the Chinese market,” Carr said, according to the Reuters new service.

Damage done

The pork sector has been circling the wagons since the halt in Chinese trade.

China is among the top three countries for Manitoba pork exports. A March industry profile by the province cited over $1 billion worth of pork exports annually, with the bulk going to Japan, the U.S. and China.

Both the Manitoba Pork Council and HyLife Foods founder Claude Vielfaure declined to comment on the sudden halt of export permits, turning all questions instead to Stordy or the Canadian Meat Council. Maple Leaf Foods was also asked for comment, but did not reply.

Pork and beef already bound for China as of June 25 continued to move, Stordy said, although no new export permits are being issued.

“We don’t want to take our foot off the gas,” he said. “We have pork and animals being raised as we speak and the pork, ideally, needs to find a home. “Unfortunately, China is not the place where this is going to go, so it’s a matter of whether other export markets can absorb the product.”

At the same time, Stordy dismissed concerns of a Canadian oversupply. He argued that producers, if anything, should be ramping up barn investment.

“China is an important market that we believe we’ll eventually return to at some point, ideally in the near future and, overall, the fundamentals of the global pork industry are strong and producers should be encouraged,” he said.

He added that the sector will work with the federal government to prevent similar issues in the future and regain market access.

Where’s the beef?

The beef sector also greeted last week’s news with concern. The pork sector has taken most of the spotlight on the issue, although beef trade has also halted.

Tom Teichroeb, Manitoba Beef Producers president, stressed the need for “good science” as they wait for investigations to conclude.

The impact to the beef sector is also unknown.

“We simply don’t know,” Teichroeb said. “We are in the midst of having like-minded officials from both countries trying to determine how to best manage going forward here.”

The beef sector made vast improvements to traceability following the 2003 BSE crisis, he said, something he hopes will pay off now to secure Canada’s continued reputation in the global meat market.

“We would hope that, moving forward, we would look at the history and how robust of a system we do have and let’s make good decisions based on that,” he said.

Stordy also dismissed concerns that the fake certificates might cast a shadow on Canada’s trade with other countries. The situation was contained between Canada and China, he said.

Meat exports

  • To date, pork exports to China have increased 52 per cent over the same period last year
  • Beef exports show a 388 per cent increase over last year
  • In 2018, China was the second largest market for pork exports, valued at $514.3 million
  • In 2018, beef export to China was valued at $97.3 million and was Canada’s fifth largest export market

About the author

Reporter

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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