Russia may block some North American meat over ractopamine

Allegation Russian watchdog says U.S., Canada violated import rules but little impact is expected on Canada 

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As of press time last week it was expected that Russia may impose a temporary ban on the import of some U.S. and Canadian beef and pork products as of Feb. 4, amid concerns that they may contain a drug used to make animal muscle more lean.

Russia’s Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service said Jan. 23 that both countries were continuing to send chilled meat products to Russia that violated its import rules that require such proteins be free of residues from the feed additive ractopamine.

Such requirements are also in place in Belarus and Kazakhstan, that are partners with Russia in a three-country customs union.

Russia’s potential ban could jeopardize the more than $500 million a year in exports of U.S. beef and pork to Russia. It also comes amid mounting trade tensions between the two countries.

The Russian veterinary group “is especially concerned about the import of chilled meat products to Russia,” the service said in an English-language statement on its website.

Ractopamine is used as a feed additive by livestock producers in the United States and Canada and elsewhere. But countries such as China have banned its use amid concerns that traces of the drug could persist, despite scientific evidence stating that it is safe.

The additive’s effects on humans may include toxicity and other exposure risks, according to U.S. groups lobbying the Food and Drug Administration for domestic limits on the drug.

The United Nations has agreed on acceptable levels of the drug in livestock production.

Economic impacton Canada limited

A ban would likely have limited impact on Canada’s livestock industry, as Canada ships no chilled pork to Russia and only a small volume of chilled bovine meats.

In 2011, Canada’s fresh or chilled bovine meat shipments to Russia were worth just $216,000, compared with sales of nearly $15 million in frozen product, according to data provided by the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, asked about Russia’s position, highlighted the importance of basing international trade rules on science.

“We will continue to work with producers as they strive to maintain access into the important Russian market,” he said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

Tensions mount over use

Late last year, the United States asked Russia, the sixth-largest market for U.S. beef and pork, to suspend its anti-ractopamine requirement.

Federal officials also warned U.S. meat companies that Moscow might reject their pork shipments that contained ractopamine and stop buying pork from processing plants that produced pork with the drug.

Earlier the Russian Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service said U.S. and Canadian regulators had failed to respond to requests for information on measures taken to prevent deliveries to Russia of meat containing ractopamine.

Canadian pork shippers have promised to comply with the Russian policy on ractopamine.

The Russian watchdog said imports from Canada were expected to be free of ractopamine by Feb. 28, but it had no such assurances from the United States.

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