June 23, 2020 - China has suspended poultry imports from a Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas, citing health concerns following an outbreak of COVID-19 among workers at the facility. As there is no evidence of foodborne transmission of the virus, however, the suspension could be a political maneuver, at least on one level, rather than purely a public health measure, particularly as the US-China trade war remains unresolved.
China is an important export market for US meat, poultry, and seafood. Hence, these products are a key focus of ongoing trade negotiations between the two countries:
- In November 2019, China lifted a five-year ban on US poultry imports due to a meat shortage in the country, though a 25% tariff on these imports remained in effect.
- In January 2020, Phase 1 of a trade agreement between the US and China entailed removal of tariffs from imports of US pork and other products to China.
- In March 2020, China exempted US imports of poultry from tariffs, boosting US poultry shipments to China.
Still, some consumers have shifted away from consumption of meat and poultry products, as high concern about reigniting viral spread is bringing about levels of caution that exceed those recommended by science at this point. The relation between food and health is of particular concern in China, where food safety efforts are increasing out of concern that the virus was initiated and spread at food markets.
Regardless of the motive, this Tyson plant is down one more important customer: China. Depending on the ability of US producers to ensure worker safety, other plants could be targeted in this way as well.
This latest move comes at a time of increasing disruption of meat, poultry, and seafood supply and demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurant closures and other restrictions in the foodservice sector have led to steep declines in demand for meat, poultry, and seafood at wholesale levels, while consumers seek more meat packaged for and available at retail grocery channels. News of outbreaks throughout the US meatpacking sector could further hinder supply and raise prices as plants temporarily shut down.
For more information and discussion of opportunities, see The Freedonia Group’s extensive collection of off-the-shelf research, including a report on Meat, Poultry & Seafood Packaging. Additional information is also available in food reports available from The Freedonia Group’s sister publisher Packaged Facts, including Food Market Outlook 2020: Home Cooking & Grocery Shopping in the Age of Coronavirus. Freedonia Custom Research is also available for questions requiring tailored market intelligence.