By Saturday, more than 1,000 metric tons of beef had been imported from the United States, following the resumption of imports in June, according to the top quality supervision, inspection and quarantine authority.[Special Coverage]
The beef, supplied by companies certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was inspected by Chinese authorities who confirmed that it met all national safety standards, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said.
The first shipment arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport on June 19, and was released onto the domestic market on June 22 after inspections, the administration said.
Major ports through which U.S. beef entered China include Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and others in the provinces of Liaoning, Jiangsu and Guangdong, according to officials.
Following the U.S.-China Economic Cooperation 100-Day Plan in April, the administration reached an agreement with the USDA in May on requirements for the inspection and quarantine of imported beef, that removed all obstacles for the meat's importation.
Under the plan, China pledged to import U.S. beef on conditions consistent with international food safety and animal health standards, no later than July 16.
The imported meat, which includes some organs such as hearts, liver and kidneys, should come from cattle younger than 30 months and should be frozen or on ice, the administration said.
China banned the importation of U.S. beef in 2003 following an outbreak of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, aka mad cow disease, in the U.S..
Joel Haggard, the U.S. Meat Export Federation's senior vice-president for the Asia-Pacific region, said beef produced in the U.S. from animals younger than 30 months old is grain fed, which provides distinctive marbling, whiter fat and a fresher appearance, and that the trade in U.S. beef to China has great prospects.
"However, U.S. beef has been out of the Chinese market for more than 14 years, and it will take a long time for consumers to recognize it," he said.
"China's import conditions for U.S. beef are different from those in many of our other major markets, so the U.S. needs to build a complete, unique and dedicated supply chain for China, from the birth farm through processing plants and the export channel," he said.
"It will take time to build and scale up this chain to one that can handle larger product volumes to serve Chinese consumers' demands."
The first batch of frozen U.S. beef exported to South China arrived in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on Sept 19 by ship. The shipment weighed more than 18 metric tons and had a total value of $210,000, the bureau said.
With more U.S. beef entering China, it will share a majority of the market with beef from Australia and South America, but will be dominant in the high-end market, the bureau said.
According to a report on China Central Television, most U.S. beef available in Beijing is carried by air, and sells at between 100 yuan and 300 yuan ($15 to $45) per kilogram, compared with 70 and 90 yuan per kg for domestically produced beef.