Impact of Russian red meat ban uncertain

Russia plans to ban meat imports from most Canadian and Mexican suppliers from April 8 over concerns about the use of the feed additive ractopamine, Russia’s veterinary and phytosanitary service (VPSS) said.

But it is not yet clear what the overall impact on the Canadian meat sector will be.

VPSS, Russia’s veterinary and phytosanitary service, estimates about half of the Canadian companies that export meat to Russia, will be blocked from sending product. But it has yet to release a list of the plants from which product will be accepted.

However, John Masswohl, vice-president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, has said every exporter could be affected. At the same time, Canadian Pork International thinks 12 member plants will be able to keep shipping. The Canadian Meat Council, which represents packers and processors, had no comment.

Meanwhile Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said the Russian decision was disappointing because Canada had been trying to assuage Russian concerns about the safety of ractopamine. Health Canada approved its use after doing a health impact study.

“Despite our collaborative efforts, the Russian government is moving forward with this measure not rooted in science,” Ritz said. “We continue to work aggressively with Canadian industry to restore their access into the important Russian market.”

Canada has been the largest pork supplier to Russia and accounted for 25 per cent of its imports in 2012. The pork sales were worth $500 million last year while the sale of Canadian beef products in 2011 amounted to about $15 million.

Canada’s two biggest pork processors, Olymel and Maple Leaf Foods, have some facilities that should be eligible.

“We’re working very hard to meet Russia’s expectations,” said Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault. “It’s a very important market for us.”

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association says the levels of ractopamine being fed to Canadian cattle are well below the internationally set limit. The additive enables the animals to digest more of their feed and this helps farmers be more efficient and reduce production costs.

In addition to Russia, South Korea and Taiwan have banned it over concerns that residues could remain in the meat and cause health problems even though scientific evidence indicates it is safe.

In December, Russia required all imported meat to have never been treated with ractopamine, which severely reduced beef shipments. Now it will only take product from plants that don’t handle animals fed the stimulant.

Russia had banned U.S. beef, pork and turkey because of ractopamine even though the additive isn’t used in turkey production. The U.S. has said it suspects the ban had more to do with American criticism of Moscow’s human rights’ record.

Russia imported 1.32 million tonnes of red meat, excluding offal, worth $5.12 billion from countries outside the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2012.

One option for Canada is to challenge the Russian action at the World Trade Organization, which Moscow recently joined. However, trade complaints take a long time to resolve at the international trade body.

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