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USDA funds $1 mln research project studying COVID-19 in U.S. beef supply chain

CHICAGO, Sept 25 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding a $1 million research project to identify how the virus that causes COVID-19 might be transmitted in the nation’s beef supply chain, from cattle on the farm to the packages of meat inside a person’s refrigerator.

One goal of the two-year project, set to begin in October, is to help reduce the risk of exposure for consumers and people who work in the meat industry, according to a USDA document describing the Texas A&M AgriLife-led research effort.

USDA officials could not immediately be reached for comment Friday. Previously, USDA stated that, “There is no evidence that people can contract COVID-19 from food or from food packaging.”

The research is ramping up as China - the world’s top meat importer - halts food imports from companies if their products or packaging tested positive for the virus.

Thousands of meatpacking workers in North America and Brazil have contracted coronavirus.

Researchers will examine the impact of the virus on different stages of meat processing and packaging, and determine the virus’s ability to survive on meat and packaging material during transportation and in retail areas, said Sapna Chitlapilly Dass, a Texas A&M meat science research assistant professor who leads the project.

“We want to look at the whole picture, not just what is happening at the processor,” said Dass, who is working with USDA and the University of Pennsylvania on the effort.

The grant is part of a broader effort by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which announced in April that it is investing up to $9 million in research on the impact of COVID-19 on American agriculture.

The grants are for COVID-related research on livestock health and security, food processing and the well-being of farm workers, food suppliers and rural residents. (Reporting By P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)