Australia lashes China, WHO: ‘Our beef didn’t cause COVID’


Exclusive: Official Australian analysis of the World Health Organisation (WHO) report into the origins of COVID-19 has rejected outright one of its central hypotheses that the virus might have been carried on imported frozen goods and originated outside China.

The WHO's month-long investigation into the pandemic's origins this week made several key but inconclusive findings, including the virus was active outside the Wuhan markets and could have been brought in from elsewhere "in South East Asia".

China's scientists had earlier gone one step further suggesting it may have been on imported seafood and beef from countries including Australia, India and the United States.

But the Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade Department (DFAT) yesterday released its summary of the WHO's findings, rejecting that assertion and saying there had never been evidence the virus could be carried on packaging.

WHO and international food safety agencies themselves had earlier concluded there was no definitive evidence and the respiratory illness remained largely from "primary transmission route through person-to-person contact" and direct contact with droplets and aerosols.


Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market before its closure in December 2019. Picture: Alamy
Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market before its closure in December 2019. Picture: Alamy


"According to health and food safety agencies internationally including the WHO, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand, there is no definitive evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted by food or food packaging," DFAT officials have now concluded in its analysis concluded today.

"Australia is an exporter of safe, high quality, price-competitive goods and services that are valued by Chinese consumers. Australia takes compliance with importing country requirements seriously."

The Australian seafood industry - which has already suffered setback to exports to China in recent months largely stemming from the diplomatic spat between the nations' two governments - has also rejected suggestions transmission could be on exports.

"There is no evidence Australian seafood or Australian seafood packaging is associated with the transmission of COVID-19," Seafood Industry Australia CEO Veronica Papacosta told News Corp Australia.



Many of its industry exporters now have the option of attaching an official letter from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment First Assistant Secretary Exports and Veterinary Services Division Fran Freeman outlining the safety measures that have always been taken and constantly reviewed.

"Australia has a strong regulatory system that requires all Australian facilities involved in the processing and export of food to implement appropriate hygiene and contamination control measures to mitigate the risk of the potential spread of COVID-19 within the scope of their activities," Ms Freeman writes in part.

The Australian Meat Industry Council has again declined to comment on the suggestions cold-chain storage of beef imports including from Australia could be involved in the spread of COVID-19.

The WHO report this week made four central hypotheses including direct animal to human transmission, introduction to intermediate animal host then to human transmission, transmission through cold chain food (potential for surface acting as source of infection or the food itself and a laboratory related incident although they added the latter was highly unlikely.

There is some research about how long the virus survives on surfaces showing that it can survive for some time and this is dependent on temperature and humidity, but there are no known cases of anyone acquiring coronavirus from food packaging surfaces

But that has not stopped Chinese Communist Party-owned mouth piece media group Global Times stating the Wuhan markets which has largely been identified as the central outbreak source, pushing the theory the virus was imported to China and noting Wuhan's foreign product sales include seafood and meat products from around the world including Australian and Brazilian beef.

Originally published as Australia lashes China, WHO: 'Our beef didn't cause COVID'