The ban on imports of cattle under 30 months of age, which took effect from 29 September, was announced in a statement from China’s General Administration of Customs.
It followed a reported case of BSE, also known as ‘mad cow’ disease, at a farm in Somerset by the UK's Animal and Plant Health Agency.
AHDB international market development director Phil Hadley said there would be no immediate impact on UK producers, since the UK was not commercially trading to China at this point – but the ban will impact longer-term plans to do so.
The organisation, industry, the UK Government and others are now working together to give the Chinese authorities the clarity and confidence they were seeking in British beef.
“The UK enjoys a hard-won international reputation for biosecurity and our high standards are well recognised,” said Hadley. “The recent detection of a case as part of routine testing is further proof of the robust procedures and stringent controls we operate here in the UK.
“There is no threat to human health and we continue work with relevant trading partners to ensure that import conditions are met. The UK Government is working closely with the OIE [World Organisation for Animal Health] and overseas governments to provide information on how this case has been successfully managed.”
Hadley urged consumers both at home and abroad to continue to have confidence in British beef to emphasise to the world that the UK’s professional surveillance systems are effective.
A spokesman for the British Meat Processors Association said that the ban was disappointing news for exporters, especially at a time when the UK was close to being able to be classified as BSE negligible risk status.
However, the BMPA echoed the AHDB’s praise of food supply chain surveillance systems at work in the UK and their ability to quickly identify the case of BSE.
“The beef industry has done a fantastic job of eradicating BSE and people can take reassurance that there are rigorous surveillance schemes in place to maintain food safety as has been demonstrated in this instance,” said the spokesman. “The industry will continue to work hard to attain BSE negligible risk status.”
China opened up its borders to imports of British beef in 2018, following a ban imposed in 1990s during outbreaks of BSE. Despite the lifting of the ban, China has yet to buy British beef.
Meanwhile, sales of beef, lamb and pork grew to £4.1bn in the 52 weeks to 16 May 2021, thanks to consistent demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Meat Promotion Wales.