Chinese authorities seek to reassure beef consumers after anthrax outbreak

By Mark Godfrey

- Last updated on GMT

The Chinese public are being assured it is safe to eat beef following an outbreak of anthrax
The Chinese public are being assured it is safe to eat beef following an outbreak of anthrax

Related tags Anthrax outbreak Livestock Anthrax Beef

Authorities in one of China’s key meat processing regions are seeking to reassure consumers it is safe to eat beef after an outbreak of anthrax in the local herd.

The region of Xifeng in Liaoning province has suspended all slaughter of beef cattle, according to Yao Wenqing, the vice-director of the Liaoning Disease Prevention Centre. Speaking to media, Yao said: “While, theoretically, anthrax can be passed to humans through meat consumption, in reality this is very rare.”​ Consumers should ensure meat is fully cooked prior to consumption and meat should only be purchased through “formal channels”​ said Yao – a reference to the very fragmented nature of meat sales in China, with supermarkets vying with small-scale wet markets (where hygiene levels vary) for sales.

Official sources say six cattle died in the anthrax outbreak in Xifeng. To counter speculation on Chinese social media among locals as to whether more may have died, the Xifeng and provincial TV channels are relaying government messages seeking to assure locals that the outbreak is under control. One of the country’s sprawling northern provinces, Liaoning is a significant producer of beef and is home to feed lots and processing facilities operated by firms like Da Yuan and Grand Farm – both of which have operations in the province along with other meat firms. There have previously been outbreaks of anthrax in Liaoning province, with hospitalisation of 40 locals in 2011, but no human deaths reported.

Last month a region of Shaanxi province was struck with an anthrax outbreak that saw scores of farm-labouring mules die. Anthrax is notable for the suddenness of the infection and the rapidity of death of infected animals. There have been no details of any long-term vaccination programmes in infected areas. The lack of effective traceability systems for farm animals is a feature of China’s meat industry.

Likewise, regions have struggled to enforce a traceable system for disposal of animals dying from disease – this has become an urgent priority with many cases of dead animals entering the food chain illicitly.

China takes a hard line on disease control as it relates to imported meat or animals. But the country’s multi-agency approach often makes detection and management of outbreaks difficult. The provincial Bureau of Animal Health and Production, as well as the animal husbandry office of the provincial agricultural ministry offices are both charged with disease control and prevention, while the regional Disease Prevention Centre bureaux are also charged with ensuring disease from animals and poultry markets does not infect humans.

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