Demands by Chinese quarantine authorities for a new layer of verification to make sure that pork imported from the US is free of a feed additive have baffled analysts and officials.
Starting from next month, China has demanded a third-party inspection for ractopamine, an additive used to promote lean muscle growth, in all American pork shipments. This is even though the substance has not recently been reported in any pork from the US, which exported pork worth in excess of US$885m to China and Hong Kong last year.
The move comes shortly after Russia barred imports from the US worth over half-a-billion dollars annually, citing the presence of ractopamine.
In spite of scientific evidence that ractopamine is safe, with the United Nations even agreeing on acceptable levels, Beijing still has serious concerns about the additive. In may last year, the quarantine service rejected a consignment of American pork after traces of the substance were found.
The motives for China’s demand for additional verification is as yet unknown, and the country’s quarantine bureau, which oversees the safety of food imports, has so far declined to comment.
However, the move has stirred speculation ranging from a political agenda to protection of China’s pork industry, according to Reuters. China is the third-biggest buyer of American pork, and the world’s largest consumer of the meat.
Steve Meyer, president of Iowa-based Paragon Economics, told the news wire: "My guess is they are trying to protect the domestic industry. They are trying to throw up roadblocks. That is always a possibility when you are dealing with Russia and China."
More time needed
American officials in Beijing received a letter from quarantine service officials earlier this week. In it, the Chinese demanded further paperwork to certify that pork shipments were free of the additive.
However, the US Meat Export Federation has requested an extension on account of consignments in transit, whereby the March 1 verification deadline will come too soon for action.
An official told news agencies that the federation was still seeking specifics in terms of what China would accept in order to satisfy third-party verification requirements.