Agribusiness & Food

China rejects snail-tainted feed grain

Grain. Photo: Shutterstock.

Chinese reluctance to drink snail-flavoured beer is harming the viability of the Australian grain trade.

Executive manager of the Grains Industry Market Access Forum, Tony Russell, told the Australian Grains Industry Conference Chinese authorities were increasingly concerned about the numbers of the white or vineyard snail that is quite prevalent in Australia, especially South Australia.

This had resulted in China imposing bans upon some Australian exporters.

Mr Russell said the issue arose last year with a shipment from South Australia (departed South Australia in May 2015, arrived China in June 2015).

“The first we knew there was an issue was in the middle of September when (Chinese authorities) notified the Department of Agriculture that was there was an issue.

“That created a lot of consternation. Everyone involved in the feed grain trade with China became very nervous and needed to understand the reasons why the ban had taken place.”

Mr Russell said the bans had “slowed down substantially” Australian exports of feed grain.

Several meetings had been held in Australia to try and rectify the problem involving export groups and growers, as well as technical experts from China.

Chinese experts visited grain terminals and ports including Geelong, Adelaide, and Kwinana, speaking with representatives of CBH, Viterra and experts from Curtin University.

Despite these efforts, export bans remain in place.

“It is quite apparent that they are not happy that our industry management plan is currently delivering to their requirements,” he said.

Subsequent feedback from the Australian Government and the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture further emphasised the Chinese dissatisfaction, with the Department pushing industry for lower limits on the acceptable snail numbers.

The industry has also agreed to reduce the “working tolerance” of snails in shipments China to ensure the market can continue to be successfully serviced.

Areas that have been improved include standardising sampling methodology and Mr Russell said “we have been concerned for some time that some of the results that China has been expressing back to us are very much higher than what we believe was shipped to them”.

“We believe there were errors in the sampling methodology.”

One view is that when grain is shipped to China from Australia it crosses the tropics, causing the snails to migrate to the surface of the grain, particularly in containers.

He said there was a fear Chinese authorities were not getting proper representative samples and further efforts were underway to resolve the matter.

“But even in bulk cargoes there’s a view that (snails) tend to migrate to the surface and when it gets to the other end, you open the hatch up and there are snails almost crawling out the top.”

Mr Russell urged some understanding of the Chinese viewpoint.

“I certainly wouldn’t want snail-flavoured beer, or beef or chicken – I’m sure you don’t,” he told the gathering.

“I think we as an industry… we all need to work together to resolve this current problem.

“I’m not saying growers have to do it all, but there needs to be greater effort applied right across the supply chain if we want to continue maintaining access to important markets like China.”

This article originally appeared in the July 21 print edition of Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List AustraliaClick here to read the original.

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