Salmon shunned after linked to Beijing outbreak

The boycott deals another blow to China seafood exporters after Covid-19 caused sales in the first four months of 2020 to plunge over 30%

BEIJING • The US$700 million (RM3 billion) market for imported salmon in China is at risk after the fish was implicated in a new outbreak of coronavirus cases in Beijing, potentially dealing a blow to major exporters like Denmark, Norway and Australia.

Salmon has been taken off the shelves in supermarkets and grocery delivery platforms across major Chinese cities, while top experts are warning people not to consume the omega-3 rich seafood.

The boycott came after the chairman of a major fruit and vegetable market called Xinfadi, the site of nearly 100 new cases detected, said the virus was traced to the chopping board used by an imported salmon seller.

“We have yet to find out whether human beings transmitted the virus to salmon or salmon contracted the virus first,” a senior expert with the National Health Commission Zeng Guang said in an interview with state media on Sunday.

He warned Beijing residents not to eat raw salmon or purchase imported seafood for the time being.

China’s Center for Diseases Prevention and Control chief epidemiologist Wu Zunyou said on Sunday that the virus can survive on the surface of frozen food for up to three months and that the agency “highly suspects” contaminated goods as the source of the latest outbreak.

While it is unclear if the virus can actually be transmitted through frozen food that’s later thawed, the swift shunning of salmon reflects China’s growing fears over the abrupt resurgence of cases in its capital city — the cultural and political centre of the country where 20 million people reside.

About 20 housing compounds have been placed under lockdown and some schools closed, while local officials race to track down people who have visited or had contact with the Xinfadi market.

The salmon boycott is another blow to China seafood exporters after the coronavirus pandemic caused sales in the first four months of the year to plunge over 30%. Prior to the crisis, the four biggest exporters according to China customs data — Chile, Norway, Australia and Denmark’s Faroe Islands — had seen demand steadily grow to US$686 million last year due to rising middle-class incomes and a shift to healthier diets.

The situation drove stocks of pork producers up yesterday, with Jiangxi Zhengbang Technology Co Ltd jumping 6.9% as of the midday break in Shenzhen and Wens Foodstuffs Group Co Ltd climbing 3.8%. Both are set to log their biggest daily gain since April.

The gains were likely fuelled by expectations that demand for the meat will rise as consumers shun seafood, said Ken Chen, an analyst with KGI Securities Co Ltd in Shanghai.

In a study published in April, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation researchers concluded that the coronavirus is not known to infect aquatic food animals or contaminate their products.

The risk “should be negligible” with “proper food handling and sanitation”, although their surfaces might potentially become contaminated when handled by people who carry the virus, scientists including Melba G Bondad- Reantaso wrote. — Bloomberg