'Still no link between New Zealand meat and COVID': Govt confident NZ meat safe

The Government says there is still no direct link between New Zealand meat and traces of coronavirus found in China.

Reuters reported at the weekend coronavirus had been found on frozen beef and tripe and its packaging from New Zealand, Brazil, and Bolivia, as well as on pork from Argentina. On Monday, NZ's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it was working to verify the reports. 

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said he had received an update on Tuesday morning about the situation, telling media there had been no "formal notification" from Chinese authorities.

"As far as we know there's no New Zealand meat directly implicated," O'Connor said.

"I've just had a recent update saying there's still no link between New Zealand meat and COVID in the cool stores," he added.

On Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had been advised of positive tests on the packaging on beef products from Argentina.

"We were advised that some New Zealand products were in the same cool store as where those positive tests were returned. We were not advised that New Zealand products themselves had tested positive for COVID-19," she said, adding she was determined "to get to the bottom of this".

A spokesperson from the Argentinian Embassy in Wellington told Newshub the country's National Service for Agrifood Safety and Quality (SENASA) was investigating the "alleged discovery"  of COVID-19 on its products because "it was not made by Chinese Customs at the point of entry of the merchandise into the country but at a cold store where it had been transferred before its final distribution".

"The alleged event did not affect the product, which is in perfect condition and meeting all the required sanitary standards, but rather the outer packaging at the cold store facilities where it had been transferred. We would like to indicate that this is an isolated case, being the first time that this has happened in the packaging of products from Argentina since the pandemic began," the spokesperson said.

Despite the reports, O'Connor said he was "confident with the practices we have in places for exporters", and confident New Zealand meat was safe.

He also said the Government was looking into whether it might be necessary to swab imported products coming into New Zealand for coronavirus.

"That's one of the things that has been talked about, but we have done some investigation and the likelihood of it being transferred through frozen goods is very, very low - but you can probably find traces of DNA material from COVID if you really looked from countries where it's really rampant," he said.