US Farmers Lash Out Against New Chinese COVID-19 Measure

By Sarah Martinson
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Law360 (June 26, 2020, 4:49 PM EDT) -- A U.S. farmers association called out China on Friday for requiring food manufacturers to provide declarations that their shipments are safe from the novel coronavirus, flagging that international organizations have said there is no evidence the virus is transmitted through food.

Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia said in a statement that the new requirement is "not based on any legitimate food safety concern" and that the World Health Organization and the United Nations have both confirmed that food and food packaging are not the culprits behind the coronavirus pandemic.

"Our food system is the safest in the world, and the known science behind the transmission of COVID-19 is inconsistent with the Chinese government's call for more restrictive food safety-related trade measures," Puglia said, adding that, amid the financial hardship that the pandemic has caused farmers, "it will be difficult for the industry to absorb further losses due to unfounded demands like this."

The Chinese government is requiring all shippers and manufacturers of food products to submit a "Letter of Undertaking of Safety of Import Food" for each of their shipments entering China, according to a customer advisory from French shipping company CMA CGM SA. The measure is temporary and may be adjusted "according to the actual situation in each local area" of China, the advisory said.

Earlier this week, U.S. officials said that they understand domestic and international consumers' concerns about food safety during the coronavirus outbreak, but that some countries' trade restrictions are not backed by the known science of virus transmission.

"There is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging," U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said in a joint statement on Wednesday. "The U.S. food safety system, overseen by our agencies, is the global leader in ensuring the safety of our food products, including product for export."

That same day, the World Trade Organization's Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures held a meeting reviewing trade restrictions implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The WTO said its members agreed that food-related trade measures need to be supported by science.

A representative for the Chinese government did not respond to a request for comment.

--Editing by Steven Edelstone.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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