A shipment of Maine lobster has been identified by Chinese media as a likely culprit for the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a claim a Maine official called “nonsensical.” 

A recent article in the Sina news portal, one of the most read on China’s state-controlled internet, reported that in mid-November 2019, a batch of seafood from Maine was shipped to the “Wuhan South China Seafood Market,” also known as the Huanan Seafood Market, where the virus was first reported in late 2019.

According to the translated Sina article, within a few weeks, employees in the market began experiencing “symptoms of pneumonia of unknown origin one after another.”

Sina named “the Seashell Company” in York County as the original source of the lobster. The Seashell Company does not exist, but a map in the article identifies the company’s headquarters as those of York-based lobster exporter Maine Coast Shellfish. 

The article suggests that a shipment of 55 boxes of chilled lobster arrived at the Shanghai Pudong Airport on Nov. 11, 2019, and was then distributed to 26 customers across the country, including an unnamed vendor at the Huanan Seafood Market.

“I am afraid it was this batch of American lobsters that opened the Pandora’s box of the epidemic,” the article said. 

SeafoodSource.com, an industry news outlet, reported on the Chinese media reports Friday. 

Tom Adams, president of Maine Coast Shellfish, said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald that he doesn’t know why his company was singled out, but suggested it could be an attempt to “deflect some of the bad publicity” from China for being the first place the virus was reported. 

“To think that it originated from Maine, in a lobster shipment from 2019 seems pretty absurd to me,” he said, calling the claim a “grasp for straws.”

“We’ve been actively shipping all this time with no more scrutiny than any other company,” he said, noting the many shipments that come in and out of China each day. 

Robert Long, spokesperson for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, also isn’t buying it.

There is no scientific evidence to support these nonsensical claims,” he said in an email. 

Adams told news outlet SeafoodSource that “Public health organizations from around the world have stated with certainty that imported food is not the cause of COVID-19. Maine Coast has no information supporting this claim.”

The U.S. CDC has said there is “no evidence” to suggest food is associated with spreading the virus.

Adams said the news has not had an impact on his business with China.

The Sina article also suggested that what it dubbed an “e-cigarette pneumonia” at York Hospital in July 2019 is further evidence of the virus’ origin. The hospital is close to Maine Coast Shellfish.

The outlet claims that these cases of e-cigarette pneumonia were kept secret in the United States, though it also claims that the cases were reported by the Maine CDC and local media.


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