A fresh outbreak has resulted in the suspension of Russia’s only Foot and Mouth Disease-free zone, just six months after it was cleared of the virus.
The development is a new blow to Russia’s bid to become a larger beef exporter.
Russia has been investing heavily to create a more modern beef industry with grain feeding capability in recent years, but still remains a long way from its goal of achieving self-sufficiency in beef production and becoming a larger beef exporter.
Some large companies in Russia, most notably the meat giant Miratorg which is said to have strong connections in the Russian Government and has received state financing, investment subsidies, and tax benefits to build a massive pork, poultry and now beef empire, have bought thousands of breeding cattle from Australia and the US in recent years.
Miratorg is reported to now have a herd of 250,000 Angus Aberdeen cattle, based on Australian and US genetics, and recently opened a new beef processing plant, which has a capacity to process about 1000 head per day.
A Miratorg spokesperson told European media recently that the company intends to export 25pc of its total meat production within three to five years.
Last year Miratrog delivered its first shipment of beef to the Middle East and earlier this year became the first Russian company to gain export access for beef to Iran
Russian Export Centre spokesperson Petr Fradkov told a conference in September that Miratorg plans to begin selling premium beef to China online. However, that cannot happen until China lift ia ban on imports from Russia.
Exports are seen as the future of Russia’s meat industry, and are considered a ‘top priority’ by Government, Russian agriculture minister Alexandr Tkachev said in April.
However, key hurdles, including Foot and Mouth Disease, and a small beef production base, despite the investment of companies like Miratorg, indicate that Russia may still some time away from becoming a significant beef exporter.
In May 2016 Russia was officially recognised by the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) as a country with an FMD-free zone where vaccination is not practiced.
“This status is of critical importance for gaining an opportunity to export animal products from this zone to the foreign countries,” Russia’s biosecurity and trade authority Rosselkhoznadzor said.
However, that status was suspended two weeks ago after the OIE was notified of an FMD outbreak in the same region, Vladimirskaya, about 180km east of Moscow.
The virus was detected in 90 cattle in a herd of 797, and an FMD vaccination program is now underway to stamp out the outbreak.
Late last year Russia placed a ban on buffalo meat imports from India after its inspectors found the FMD-virus in an import consignment in initial shipments from the sub-continent.
Low production base
Apart from the FMD issue, Russian beef production volumes remain well below levels required to satisfy both domestic demand and export sales.
Despite investments by companies such as Miratorg in quality genetics and a modern beef supply chain, the overall Russian herd has been declining for many years.
Trade figures show that Russian cattle numbers fell by 60 percent in the 20 years to 2015, to a total of 19 million head.
The Russian herd is dominated by dairy and crossbred cattle, with commercial beef cattle representing only about 8pc of total numbers, or approximately 1.5 million head.
Total Russian beef production in 2015 was 1.64 million tonnes (slaughter weight), down by 1.1pc on the previous year.
Russia’s main export potential will come from newly developed complexes such as Miratorg’s modern supply chain , however, total export volumes would be insignificant compared to major beef exporting nations.
Miratorg’s operations are in Russia’s far west, about 550km from the Vladimir region, which temporarily held FMD-free with no vaccination status.
Until recently Russia was the world’s largest beef importer, but has banned the import of beef from several western countries since that time due to issues such as HGP and beta-agonist use and as a response to western sanctions against Russia over its occupation of Ukraine.
The following statistics highlight the current significant deficit that exists between Russian beef exports and imports:
BEEF: Between 2009-2013 Russia imported about 740-850k tonnes beef per annum (FAO)
LIVE CATTLE: Between 2009-2013 Russia imported about 40-142k cattle per annum (FAO)
BEEF: Between 2009-2013 Russia exported about 6-9k tonnes beef per annum (FAO)
LIVE CATTLE: Between 2009-2013 Russia exported about 0.6-13k cattle per annum (FAO)
Russian beef consumption stands at around 13kg/person.
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