China has suspended shipments from the Tyson Foods Berry Street plant in Springdale because recent COVID-19 testing results made public by the company show a large number positive for COVID-19.
China’s customs authority said the plant was banned because of community outbreaks or high levels of positive cases among employees. China said it recently had an outbreak of COVID-19 at a wholesale market where imported foods were sold.
Tyson Foods was not the only food company targeted. German pork packer Toennies was also suspended for shipments into China.
Tyson Foods reported 481 positive cases of COVID-19 among the 3,748 employees tested in its Northwest Arkansas processing facilities. Tyson also said 95% of those who tested positive were asymptomatic. The testing followed results released June 11, specifically for the Berry Street plant in Springdale, where 1,102 employees were tested with 199 positive cases, only one of which displayed symptoms.
Any employee who tests positive is sent home with pay and must be quarantined for 14 days, health departments also trace the contacts of those individuals and notify anyone who might have come into contact with them. Tyson Foods said the plants experiencing a higher number of positive cases are running at reduced line speeds, but the facilities remain open and operating under strict guidelines to protect the health and safety of all employees.
Tyson Foods continues to refute the claims that COVID-19 can be spread through food.
“At Tyson, we’re confident our products are safe and we’re hopeful consultations between the U.S. and Chinese governments will resolve this matter,” corporate spokesman Gary Mickelson told the media. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, and we work closely with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that we produce all of our food in full compliance with government safety requirements.”
China had banned all chicken from the U.S. for five years until November. That ban was based on an avian flu outbreak in December 2014. With trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing last fall the ban was lifted and chicken began flowing from the U.S. into China. Tyson was cleared to begin shipping chicken to China is mid-December and CEO Noel White the demand was robust for about two months before COVID-19 closed ports. Tyson said in December customers in China were ordering tons of chicken feet, wingtips and legs processed in the U.S.
Tyson Foods did not immediately respond to a request for testing information on its other facilities across Arkansas.
Shares of Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) closed Monday at $61.42, down $1.80. For the past 52 weeks, the share prices have traded between $42.57 and $94.24.