Restaurants and retailers in Chinese cities have sought to cash in on Olympics fervour by putting up signs like ‘Enjoy Olympics, Eat Brazilian Beef’ and ‘Win Olympics Glory, Eat Brazilian Barbeque’ but the China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) reckons “fake Brazilian beef” is appearing - some of it domestic oxen, some of it illegal Indian imports. While Indian beef is barred by China on food and mouth disease grounds, large quantities have been sold to witting or unwitting catering firms.
The AQSIQ says it has increased its checks on beef circulation at ports, wholesale markets and retailers but also sent a circular to media to warn consumers. An AQSIQ statement advised suspicious consumers to request beef vendors to produce import documents certifying their beef is legitimately Brazilian and imported through “official channels”.
Authorities in the key port of Tianjin (near Beijing) claim to have handled 46,500 tons of Brazilian beef worth US$193 million (m) in the first six months of 2016. Average monthly imports rose 62.5% on last year’s monthly averages into Tianjin according to AQSIQ.
Beef smuggling rife
Mired in an economic slowdown, Brazil has taken advantage of a devaluation in its currency as well as lower cattle numbers in Argentina and Australia to rebuild sales in China after being readmitted to the market last year. Brazilian beef was locked out of China in late 2012 due to the discovery of BSE in the country’s herd. However even when the Chinese ban on Brazilian beef was in place large quantities of beef were smuggled in, particularly through Vietnam and Hong Kong border crossings.
The AQSIQ statement offers an unusually frank guide to both trade buyers and consumers: Consumers are warned that “properly imported” beef should have packaging indicating the country of origin, name, company registration number and production batch. Furthermore, labelling in Chinese should indicate the production date, shelf life, storage temperature and destination as well as weight of each batch. Restaurants or trade buyers who are unsure of the authenticity of imports “can request AQSIQ documentation showing proof of entry inspection and quarantine which should show the date of production, shelf life, batch and factory registration number” suggests the statement.
Brazil’s re-entry to the market has seen the Latin American nation take over as China’s first place supplier for the first six months of 2016 with a 32% market share compared to second and third placed Uruguay and Australia with 24% and 19% market shares respectively. Chinese frozen beef imports totalled 467,143 tons in 2015 with Australian supplying 51% of that total while Uruguay and Argentina supplied 42% and 15% respectively.
There’s a lot to play for given China in 2016 is set to be the world’s number two importer of beef after the US, buying 0.6m tons –according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Crucially, Brazilian beef influx is also lowering prices. Average prices paid for imported beef dropped 11.4% on the same period in 2015 according to the AQSIQ. At the retail level Chinese beef prices have eased off from highs seen in 2014: prices have averaged between RMB52 – RMB53 per kilogram in July compared to RMB54.5/kg paid in the run up to Chinese New Year in 2014.