Maple Leaf Foods suspends pork exports to China amid COVID-19 outbreak at Manitoba plant

Fifty-five people have tested positive for the virus at pork processing plant in Brandon, Manitoba

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OTTAWA — Canadian meat processor Maple Leaf Foods Inc. has voluntarily suspended exports of pork to China following an outbreak of COVID-19 in a Manitoba plant.

The company said late Tuesday it was proactively complying with new Chinese government protocols for Canadian processors that require that any plant reporting a positive COVID-19 case suspend exports to China temporarily.

“We respect China’s new import protocols for Canadian products and are working cooperatively with Canadian and Chinese authorities to resume exports quickly,” Maple Leaf chief executive Michael McCain said in a statement.

Shares of the Mississauga, Ontario-based company were trading up 2.03% at C$30.20 on Wednesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

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Maple Leaf has been grappling for weeks with an outbreak of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, at its pork processing plant in Brandon, Manitoba. Fifty-five people have tested positive for the virus.

Of those, 53 cases remain active, while two people have recovered, Maple Leaf spokeswoman Janet Riley said in an email on Tuesday. She said the plant is operating and health officials have said there “remains no evidence of workplace transmission.”

We respect China's new import protocols for Canadian products and are working cooperatively with Canadian and Chinese authorities to resume exports quickly

Michael McCain, Maple Leaf CEO

Canada is the world’s No.3 shipper of pork. In 2019, China bought some $609 million (US$462.7 million) in pork, making it Canada’s third largest pork market in both value and volume terms, according to industry data.

Maple Leaf Foods said it believes the suspension of pork exports to China is a “short-term” situation and “not material financial event,” given the company’s diverse markets.

Last week, seven Argentine meat processing plants said they had temporarily halted exports to China after registering coronavirus cases among employees.

? Thomson Reuters 2020

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