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China, Philippines suspend imports of Canadian beef following atypical BSE case

China and the Philippines have joined South Korea in temporarily suspending imports of Canadian beef following the discovery of an atypical case of BSE in an Alberta cow in mid-December.

The Chinese customs administration has stopped issuing certificates for beef and beef products from Canada, while hides are still eligible for export, according to a statement the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) shared with RealAgriculture.

“The General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC) is seeking further details about the atypical BSE case,” the CFIA says.

The Philippines also issued a temporary suspension on January 5 for beef products coming from Canada.

Unlike classical BSE cases, atypical BSE appears spontaneously in older cattle, even in countries where no classical BSE has ever been reported. Canada immediately reported the case, which was detected as part of the country’s BSE surveillance program, to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) on December 17, 2021.

Since it’s an atypical case, Canada maintains its negligible risk status with the OIE, but the Chinese, Philippine, and South Korean governments have suspended imports while seeking more detailed information that goes beyond the OIE’s requirements.

“The CFIA will provide a timely response to GACC to support the resumption of trade as soon as possible,” says the CFIA.

“We understand that China has asked for more details about the Atypical case and the Government of Canada is fully engaged in responding to those questions and is working to get a resolution to this as soon as possible,” notes Dennis Laycraft, executive vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

China similarly banned beef imports from its largest beef supplier, Brazil, following a pair of atypical BSE cases that were reported in September 2021. While the Brazilian government faced criticism for not immediately reporting the cases, China reportedly resumed imports from Brazil as of December 2021.

Meanwhile, Canadian government officials say they provided the South Korean government with the information it was seeking prior to the Christmas period. A resolution is still expected “soon,” but no timeline has been given.

“The Government of Canada is confident in the strength of Canada’s BSE safeguards and the safety of Canadian beef,” says the CFIA, noting it is “in close communication with the cattle and beef industries regarding the matter, and will continue to work with the sector to restore trade and maintain full market access for Canadian beef and beef products.”

“We remain optimistic that trade can be normalized in a timely manner once the additional information is provided,” says Laycraft.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian beef exports to China in 2020 were worth approximately $103 million. Year-end export data have not been published for 2021, but from January to October 2021, Canadian beef exports to China were double the same timeframe in 2020, reaching $165 million.

Canadian beef exports to South Korea totalled just over $45 million in 2020, while exports to the Philippines in 2020 were worth just over $5 million.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with new info regarding the Philippines also suspending imports from Canada, as well as quotes from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.