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China blocks British cheese exports after one dairy fails food safety standards

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 06, 2014

  • Judging at the Frome Cheese Show. China has placed a block on British cheese sales to the country after a visit to just one site, which they said failed Chinese standards of food production

  • Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, left, MP Andrew Percy, right, and Somerset-based Wyke Farm's big cheese, Richard Clothier, centre

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China has banned Cheddar and other British cheeses after officials made a snap visit to UK dairy that doesn't even export to the country.

The Chinese officials say they want to check conditions in all eight UK suppliers after they were reportedly dissatisfied with hygiene standards at the factory.

Yesterday a diplomatic row was brewing after some politicians accused the Chinese of 'tit for tat' retaliation because Europe has tightened up the rules on herbal medicines.

Environment Minister Owen Paterson has ordered a review into what went wrong after Chinese officials said the dairy they saw on an official visit did not meet new food safety laws which came into force on May 1.

Farming Minister George Eustice described the decision as "disappointing" and called for restrictions to be lifted.

"British cheese is the best in the world and produced to the highest safety and quality standards so it is disappointing that China have put a temporary block on cheese imports," he said. "Food inspectors will now visit all factories exporting cheese to China to demonstrate their high standards so these restrictions can be lifted as soon as possible."

The news could come as a major blow to West Country firms such as Wyke Farms in Somerset which have invested in feeding the growing Chinese hunger for Western cheese.

Britain exports 11.5 tonnes a year to China and export figures for January and February alone are already valued at £93,000.

It is one of the fastest growing parts of the market and Cheddar prices in America soared to their highest price ever in March because manufacturers cannot meet demand from China.

Now there are fears that unless the row is resolved soon Irish producers, who have not been banned, will be better placed to take advantage of the rapidly growing market.

Andrew Percy, Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole, who is secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Cheese Group, said: "We have some of the highest food production standards in the world as well as the world's finest cheeses.

"It seems to me this is a complete over-reaction and a disproportionate response especially as the plant involved does not even export cheese to China.

"This matter needs to be resolved quickly and if it is not we should look at the possibility of some retaliatory action."

He added: "Attacking the British cheese industry is like us attacking the Chinese noodle industry and on the basis of just one visit to a British dairy producer I think it's offensive."

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson who visited China twice in 18 months to raise the profile of products such as authentic Cheddar has asked officials to discover what went wrong.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and industry body Dairy UK assumed the officials were on a general visit in March.

But the Chinese conducted a full-blown audit and DairyCo has said officials raised concerns.

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