Russia to ban most Canadian Mexican meat suppliers

MOSCOW, Russia (Reuters) — Russia plans to ban meat imports from most Canadian and Mexican suppliers starting Monday over concerns about the use of the feed additive ractopamine, a spokesperson for Russia’s veterinary and phytosanitary service said today.

“More than 50 percent of Canadian companies will be excluded from the list of suppliers,” Alexei Alekseenko said.

Russia also plans to ban about 80 percent of Mexican meat importers starting Monday, Interfax news agency reported earlier today, citing VPSS head Sergei Dankvert.

Canada was the largest pork supplier to Russia and accounted for 25 percent of its imports in 2012, said Sergei Yushin, head of Russia’s National Meat Association. About five percent of imported beef came to Russia from Mexico last year.

VPSS’s list of Canadian pork suppliers, published on its website at www.fsvps.ru, includes 88 companies, while the list for Mexico includes 20 names. A VPSS spokesperson could not comment on whether these lists had been updated.

Used as a growth stimulant to make meat leaner, ractopamine is banned in some countries over concerns that residues could remain in the meat and cause health problems, despite scientific evidence indicating that it is safe.

Since December, Russia has accepted meat only from Canadian livestock that were never fed ractopamine, which was already a tiny portion of the cattle herd, said John Masswohl, director of government and international relations at the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Now Russia will accept meat only from ractopamine-free animals that are processed in Canadian plants that do not also handle livestock that have been raised on the stimulant, Masswohl said such plants do not exist in Canada.

“You’re taking a very bad existing situation, which limits (beef) trade to almost nothing, and making it nothing.”

Cargill Ltd. and JBS USA Holdings Inc. are the biggest beef packers in Canada.

Russia is a small, but fast-growing market for Canadian beef, worth $15 million in 2011. It is the third largest market for Canadian pork, worth $500 million a year, said Jacques Pomerleau, executive director of Canada Pork International.

Canada has a dozen pork processing plants that accept only ractopamine-free pigs, but there is no guarantee that Russia will include all of them on its revised supplier list, Pomerleau said.

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

“We’re working very hard to meet Russia’s expectations,” said Olymel spokesperson Richard Vigneault.

“It’s a very important market for us.”

Spokespersons for Cargill and JBS could not be immediately reached, and Maple Leaf declined comment.

Spokespeople for Mexico’s economy and agriculture ministries said they were still reviewing the situation.

The Feb. 11 Russian ban on U.S. beef, pork and turkey because of the feed additive remains in place. Russia barred turkey imports from the United States despite a U.S. poultry trade group’s finding that U.S. turkey companies that ship to Russia do not use ractopamine.

More than $600 million worth of U.S. beef, pork and turkey is exported to Russia annually. The ban came amid trade tensions between the two countries.

The U.S. Senate last year approved a bill to expand bilateral trade. At the same time it sought to punish Russian human rights violators, leading to speculation that the ban on U.S. meat was in retaliation, which Russia denied.

“Basically, we’re just watching the situation and working with the industry and U.S. trade officials on a solution,” said Joe Schuele, communications director for the U.S. Meat Export Federation, a trade association for U.S. meat producers.

Russia will cover its meat demand by supplies from South America, mainly Brazil, Alekseenko said.

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, official customs data showed.

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