China confirms New Zealand tripe packaging tested positive for COVID-19

China has confirmed a sample taken from packaging on a shipment of New Zealand tripe tested positive for COVID-19 genetic material. But the New Zealand Government insists there is no evidence our products are the source of the contamination.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Monday said it was working to verify reports that traces of COVID-19 had been found on frozen beef and tripe after a report by Reuters over the weekend. 

Minister of Trade and Export Growth Damien O'Connor on Wednesday said Jinan city authorities had now confirmed the positive test.

He said the product in question was stored in a cold storage facility along with meat products from other countries.  

"There is no evidence that the New Zealand product was the source of COVID-19 on the packaging of products in the cold store facility," he said.

"We have strong national COVID-19 controls in place and a great track record of managing the disease. New Zealand food and fibre exporters have responded well to managing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, keeping their workers and product safe, and their exports flowing."

New Zealand officials remained in contact with their Chinese counterparts, he said.

The Meat Industry Association (MIA) said it was aware of reports about the positive test.

Chief executive Sirma Karapeeva also stressed there was no evidence New Zealand products were the source, saying there is "no visibility of how the product is handled and distributed once it clears a port in China".

"The risk of COVID-19 transmission by food or food packaging is also negligible," added Karapeeva.

She said the meat processing sector was focused on doing everything it could to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We have been implementing protocols with the Ministry for Primary Industries, which provides guidance and a minimum standard for processors for operating. The protocol, which is consistent with other industries and guidance from the World Health Organisation, means we have a robust first line of defence against the transmission of the virus. 

"We will continue to closely watch and review international developments about transmission and take advice from the Ministry of Primary Industries and experts at the New Zealand Food Safety Science Research Centre about how we respond to these emerging risks as our knowledge about the virus grows."

On Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was determined to "get to the bottom" of the issue, but was confident New Zealand meat was not the source of the contamination.

"We are confident of course that our products do not and are not exported with signs of COVID on them given our status as being essentially COVID-free," she said.