China considering halting all meat products from Canada over fake veterinary health certificates

China is considering halting all meat imports from Canada starting Wednesday after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency notified China that it had discovered a number of fabricated veterinary health certificates in meat products bound for China, according to a government official.

China says health certificates attached to a shipment of pork are counterfeit

Counterfeit veterenary health certificates from a Canadian pork producer have prompted China to consider halting all meat products from Canada. (Submitted by Stacey Ash )

China is considering halting all meat imports from Canada starting Wednesday after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency notified China that it had discovered a number of inauthentic veterinary health certificates in some meat products bound for China, according to a government official.

China already has halted imports from three Canadian pork producers over food safety issues — two in May and another earlier this month — as trade tensions between the two countries have escalated.

A Canadian government official, who spoke to CBC News on the condition they not be named, confirmed the CFIA notified its Chinese counterparts it had uncovered faked veterinary certificates for some Canadian meat products.

In response, the official said, China was considering halting all meat shipments from Canada. The official also said the federal government expects developments to emerge throughout the evening.

According to a statement released by China's embassy, a batch of pork from Canada was found to contain residues of ractopamine, a feed additive banned in many countries. Imports of pork from that facility were halted pending an investigation on the Canadian side.

"The subsequent investigation revealed that the official veterinary health certificates attached to the batch of pork exported to China were counterfeit and the number of those forgery certificates was up to 188," the statement said.

The documents, called export certificates by Canadian authorities, include a number and a veterinary's signature.

The move comes on the eve of the G20 leaders summit in Japan, which brings together leaders of the leading 20 industrial and developing nations, including Canada, China and the U.S.

"The CFIA has taken measures to address this issue and is continuing to work closely with industry partners and Chinese officials," said Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau in a statement. "CFIA is investigating this technical issue and has informed appropriate law enforcement agencies.

"This incident is specific to export certificates to China. Export certificates to other countries are not affected."

Bibeau said that her government will back Canadian producers and continue to work to diversify trade to "ensure farmers have access to new markets."

The Canadian Pork Council said in a statement Tuesday night that the halt in Canadian exports is not the result of a food safety issue but "the misuse of Canada's reputation as a supplier of safe quality products."

It said the Canadian Pork Council, Canadian Meat Council and Canada Pork International are working with government to identify potential next steps. "Demand for pork products remains strong in China and Canadian producers look forward to having the opportunity to continue to meet the needs of our Chinese customers." 

The Conservatives say Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should personally raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the forthcoming G20 summit. 

"Conservatives know that Canadian farmers produce some of the highest quality meat in the world. Any assertion by the Chinese government to the contrary is both false and baseless," said Conservative agriculture critic Luc Berthold in a statement. 

"It is clear that this is not an issue of food safety, but a political issue caused by Justin Trudeau's incompetence and weakness on the world stage."

Halting pork imports

Canada's former ambassador to China Guy Saint-Jacques told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that the ongoing tussles with Beijing over trade may remain a fixture of relations between the two countries for some time to come. 

"I think we have to expect, unfortunately, that this kind of pressure … will continue," he told host Vassey Kapelos. 

Last week, the Xinhua state news agency said China was halting imports from a Canadian pork producer after food safety issues were detected in one batch of pork.

Xinhua said customs authorities in the eastern city of Nanjing found traces of ractopamine in pork products from Frigo Royal. It said China will suspend imports from Frigo Royal and also stop accepting health certificates issued by the company's veterinary officer.

Ractopamine is known as a "muscle drug" that accelerates pigs' growth. It is banned in China, Russia and EU countries, but has been approved for use in the U.S. and Canada.

China said it would open all containers of Canadian meat and meat products and, in some cases, 100 per cent of the contents would be inspected.

Diplomatic tensions

In May, China halted pork imports from two other Canadian producers — Olymel LP and Drummond Export — because of labelling problems.

Relations with China have been fraught ever since Chinese authorities detained Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in December. The arrests were widely seen as retaliation for Canada's arrest of technology giant Huawei's chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in Vancouver on an extradition request from the U.S.

She was later granted bail and is now awaiting court proceedings.

In March, the ruling Communist Party's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission accused Kovrig of stealing state secrets passed on to him by Spavor.

China cancelled Winnipeg-based agricultural handler Richardson International's registration, effectivity forbidding the company to export canola seed to the country.

China said it made the move due to fears that Canadian canola was tainted by an insect infestation. Canada says it has conducted tests on the canola and has not found any pests or bacteria of concern.

Canada exported more than $5 billion worth of canola last year, nearly half of it destined for the Chinese market — almost five million metric tonnes, according to the Canadian Canola Growers Association.

The Canadian government official said this most recent issue with meat exports bound for China is not on the same scale as the canola ban.