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Ireland ensures safe supplies of infant formula amid COVID-19

By Wang Zhuoqiong | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-05-20 09:49
Eoin O'Leary, Irish ambassador to China. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The Irish ambassador to China said the Irish dairy sector has taken measures to ensure safe production and consistent supplies of infant formula products to China, and he praised efforts by Beijing in restoring cargo transport across the country.

"I think China has been very successful in restoring cargo transport into China and across China. That has been absolutely essential for Irish suppliers because without the transport links, you can't get the product to the markets," Ambassador Eoin O'Leary told China Daily.

"For the rest of the world, China can play a role in relaunching the world economy," said O'Leary.

The impact at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak was most visible on Ireland's transport of goods coming into China. Fortunately, within China itself, deliveries of infant formula by all Irish firms were not disrupted.

In the first three months of 2020, Ireland exported 10,950 metric tons of infant formula to China, which is higher compared to the 10,613 ton level over the same period in 2019.The ambassador attributed the increase to inventories piled up prior to the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Ireland provides 15 percent of the imported infant food and formula in China and is the production base for infant formula brands including Nutricia and Wyeth. Ireland exports 80 percent of all the food it produces.

The ambassador said despite the strict lockdown at this time in Ireland, the dairy sector and food sector, which are considered emergency sectors, are fully operational with a product ion model that is safe against the virus.

Those safe production methods are greatly helped by Ireland's extensive farming model on single-occupier farms that produce milk to the highest safety standards. In addition, these farms meet the conditions for the "Origin Green" sustainable products standard.

The supply of dairy products, particularly early life formula products to China, is secured, especially with the start of the full production season.

Conor O'Sullivan, China manager of Bord Bia (Irish Food Board), confirmed that strict biosecurity measures are in place in all Irish factories. Ireland's dairy farmers and milk processors are maintaining normal production while adhering to all health and safety guidelines stipulated by the Irish government.

For example, Paris-based food company Danone, which has early life nutrition products produced in Ireland, said their infant formula product supply in China has not been affected by the pandemic.

The company has business continuity plans for production sites around the world to ensure good stock levels. It has invested heavily in multiple transportation methods to ensure steady supplies. It also adopted additional safety measures to ensure total product safety, such as disinfecting all surfaces in factories between shifts.

The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, which represents a number of major infant formula producers, said companies have taken exceptional measures to secure safe production and maintain consistent supplies.

This was echoed by the Netherlands' embassy in China, which reiterated that the production and export of infant formula products from the Netherlands has proceeded normally since Dutch authorities gave priority to facilitating the export of those products.

Compared with other countries suffering from a surplus of milk or dairy products, Ireland's dairy sector is less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ambassador said.

Ireland's milk production mostly goes into infant formula, cheese and butter, with a small percentage of milk going to food service sectors which have been hit hard during this challenging time, he said.

He added that in addition to the current trade protocols with China, Ireland has been exploring new provisions to expand exports.

Dublin is seeking agreement on enhancing beef protocols to add bony beef and chill beef while likewise working on exporting mutton and live pigs to China. Ireland began exporting beef to China in 2018.

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