BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese meat importers and processors have called on exporters in countries with COVID-19 outbreaks to step up checks on shipments before they are sent to the world’s biggest market, the country’s top industry group said.

“China has been importing a large quantity of meats this year, and has detected virus on the packaging of cold chain products many times, even as lots of disinfection has been done domestically,” Gao Guan, spokesman for the China Meat Association, said by telephone on Tuesday.

“It should be better to handle this (virus control) at the meats exporting origins, and carry out disinfection at the production plants,” as the cost would be lower, and efficiency higher, Gao added.

China has ramped up disinfection and virus testing on frozen food after it found coronavirus on imported products and packaging.

The measures have pushed up costs, disrupted trade, and irritated major exporters.

The semi-official industry body suggested exporters in COVID-19 hit countries should disinfect the outer packaging of products and the inner side of containers before sealing export products, a statement published on the association’s official WeChat account said at the weekend.

The initiative was proposed to “ensure the safety of imported cold-chain food and boost consumers’ confidence in imported cold-chain products,” the statement said.

The proposal came after some major exporters, including JBS in Brazil, started to take measures including extensive disinfection of products and storage sites, to supply China with safe products, Gao said.

Reported cases have shown that contact with packaging contaminated with coronavirus could lead to human infection, said the Chinese association.

The World Health Organization has said the risk of catching COVID-19 from frozen food is low. Chinese officials echoed that such risk was low, but there was still a risk.

“The virus is new. We are still accumulating experience when fighting against it,” Gao said.

“We should get together and discuss how to use the most scientific, efficient and low-cost way to secure public health, and trade at the same time,” Gao added.

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Shivani Singh; editing by David Evans)