China allegedly detects Covid-19 in imported cherry packaging

Alarm as China allegedly detects Covid-19 on imported cherry packaging

Imported cherries are being subjected to increased scrutiny in China following reports that fruit packaging contained positive Covid-19 samples.

Chinese state-owned media on Friday reported that the cherries were sold to customers across three districts of Wuxi, in the Jiangsu province, near Shanghai.

However, there has been no official confirmation of a positive detection by Chinese authorities. 

It is not yet clear what the source country is of the cherries in question. Chilean cherries make up the bulk of China’s cherry imports, followed by Australia.

The major development comes just ahead of the key Chinese New Year sales period in early February, and amid the peak of Chile's bumper season in which it is expecting a big jump in export volumes to its leading market.

Movement and prices of Chilean cherries in the Chinese market have already been dramatically affected, with the majority of the crop still to be sold, according to Chile's Fruit Exporters' Association (Asoex)

Asoex and the Federation of Fruit Producers' (Fedefruta) said in a joint statement that the situation is creating "serious disturbances in the normal process of distribution and marketing" the cherries.

“This situation is being permanently monitored and managed by the Asoex Cherry Committee, which is implementing a set of actions aimed at mitigating this complex situation as soon as possible,” the organizations said.

They added that they have been in constant contact with the Chilean Government and are carrying out actions in mass media and social networks through Chinese advertising agencies to regain the trust of consumers and distributors.

Chinese news organization Global Times reported on Friday: “It is not yet clear what the source country is, but all unsold cherries from the same batch have been collected and are ready for destruction."

The cherries in question were reportedly produced on Dec. 18, 2020, according to Global Times.

The alleged positive Covid-19 detection in Wuxi was published on social networks on Jan. 21, Asoex said. A renowned media organization then spread the news via the Weibo platform, which has generated thousands of articles and on Friday evening became a "trending topic", it said.

This has "negatively affected" sales in the market, which receives around 93 percent of Chilean cherry exports, Asoex said.

On Saturday, a report on Chinese state TV channel CCTV said that there is no risk of contracting Covid-19 from consuming cherries, which helped to allay the concerns of Chinese consumers.

However, Asoex said that on Sunday new reports emerged from other wholesale markets that had allegedly found the virus on boxes of cherries, drawing much attention on social media platforms. 

As part of its information campaign, Asoex said it was highlighting the rigorous phytosanitary processes taken by the Chilean cherry industry along the entire supply chain and that there is no risk to consumers from consuming its cherries in international markets.

The impact on the cherry market in China is already significant. Asoex said that the movement of Chilean cherries in wholesale markets is down by 27 percent, with prices down by 59 percent.

In the retail sector, sales of Chilean cherries have dropped by 70 percent and prices are falling quickly.

To date, Chile has sold 130,000 metric tons (MT) of cherries, and still has around 190,000MT to sell, equivalent to US$1.2 billion.

"The situation is deteriorating day by day, which is having a significant impact on our cherry industry, for which immediate coordinated actions are required between the public and private sectors," Asoex said.