“Issues with dust” were identified during an audit

Defra has reassured cheese suppliers there is no blanket ban on cheese exports from the UK to China following news last week that Chinese authorities had halted cheese trade with the UK.

The restrictions, which came into force on 1 May, were temporary and efforts were under way to restore exports to China, a spokeswoman said.

“There is no general ban on exports of UK cheese. Instead, the Chinese have requested that companies wishing to export are inspected to ensure full compliance with EU and Chinese dairy requirements.”

Inspections by local authorities had already started, and the issue was expected to be resolved “shortly” she added. “Food inspectors will now visit all factories exporting cheese to China.”

The temporary ban on UK cheese exports was put in place after a Chinese delegation – which had been inspecting a babyfood facility – decided to also visit a cheesemaker (which does not export to China) and unexpectedly carried out a full inspection. “The owner initially thought it was a tour but it quickly became apparent this was a full audit,” said one industry source. “We now have this suspension pending other inspections, but I believe it has been blown up out of proportion – the issues found have been minor.”

Defra said the inspection had highlighted “a couple of issues relating to dust” but stressed there was no risk to public health.

The restrictions on UK cheesemakers come as Irish dairy plants have been found to fully meet the standards of China’s new food safety laws. Simon Coveney, the Irish minister for agriculture, food and the marine, said more than 30 Irish dairy companies had been approved for exports to China, adding: “This approval will allow the Irish dairy sector to build on its already formidable reputation in international markets, and in the increasingly important Chinese market.”