The US has challenged Russia’s recently-imposed ban on imported beef and pork produced using the feed additive, ractopamine.
Under new requirements announced by Russian authorities on December 8, US beef and pork exports to Russia must now be tested and certified free of the feed additive, used to enhance growth and reduce fatness in carcases.
US Department of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack and trade representative Ron Kirk issued an official statement on Monday, calling on Russia to suspend the new measures and restore market access for US beef and pork products.
"The US is very concerned that Russia has taken these actions, which appear to be inconsistent with its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organisation,” the statement said.
"The US sought, and Russia has committed as part of its WTO accession package, to ensure that it adhered rigorously to WTO requirements and that it would use international standards, unless it had a risk assessment to justify use of a more stringent standard,” it said.
"Especially in light of its commitment to use international standards, this is an important opportunity for Russia to demonstrate that it takes its WTO commitments seriously."
On Monday, Russia said it would step-up tests on US and Canadian meat imports for traces of the banned feed additive. The European Union and China already have certain restrictions on use of the beta blocker drugs in meat.
In response to Russia’s move on ractopamine, reports out of South America suggested Brazil had temporarily banned ractopamine and other beta blockers, for fear of being shut out by its largest beef importing customer, Russia.
A spokesman for Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry told Reuters the ban would be in effect until Brazil could establish a segregation system for beef and pork produced for foreign markets where ractopamine is banned in meat.
Brazil suspended its use in beef and pork production after Russia said it would require future meat imports to be free of the drug and that those exporting states where it was authorised for use would have to certify their meat.
Ractopamine is from a class of drugs known as beta inhibitors or blockers that counteract the effects of adrenaline on the nervous system and slow the heart rate. In livestock, it promotes muscle gain. The compound is not licensed for use in Australian beef production, but is approved for use in pork. It is widely used in the US and many other countries to improve animal performance in pigs and beef cattle.
Brazil took the self-imposed ban action partly because it apparently does not currently have analytical laboratories capable of handling this type of testing and certification process.
It remains unclear whether the Brazilian beef industry was in fact using ractopamine on a broad commercial basis.
Russia has taken about 212,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef this year, representing about 24pc of total Brazilian beef exports – easily its largest market.
A Reuters report quoted the US Meat Export Federation as estimating that there were more than 200 shipping containers of US beef and pork valued at around $20 million already in transit to Russia as the ban was announced.
US analyst Len Steiner said the Russian market was “not unimportant to the US beef industry, by any means.”
US beef companies had shipped 55,000t of product to Russia for the nine months through September this year. That figure is up 5.3pc versus last year and represented 6.6pc of total US beef exports in 2012.
“Does this mean that exports will stop if the Russians remain adamant about the ban?” Mr Steiner asked.
“Not necessarily—especially for pork. US pork producers and processors have been producing non-ractopamine fed pigs for China for some time. Beef producers could do the same, we suppose, if the markets are large enough and pay well enough.”
“However we think the Russian situation poses a bigger challenge for US beef exporters, simply because the ‘non-ractopamine’ system doesn’t appear to be as well established as it is for pork.”
”One of the damaging aspects of situations like those currently being seen in Russia over the feed additive was their leveraging by US anti-meat and anti-modern agriculture groups, he suggested.
“Don’t be surprised to hear, ‘This product is banned even in Russia, so we should ban it here, too,’ demands from the usual groups that would limit modern technology – no matter how safe it has been proven to be.”
“We’re guessing that this action by Russia is motivated far more by protectionism than by an abiding concern for the well-being of Russia’s citizens,” Mr Steiner said.
Another US analyst was quoted in the latest World Beef Report as saying the US did not have and was unlikely to introduce a segregation framework for ractopamine, because it disagreed in principle with Russia's zero tolerance stance. Russia's position was not supported by science, and the US 'will go to the WTO to make a case if necessary,' the report said.
The analyst told WBR that this did not mean that no US product would go to Russia, however.
“Some US companies will try and ship product that they will guarantee as ractopamine-free. The problem is that the supply will be limited,” he said.
He cited the case of Taiwan, where most US companies were unwilling to ship product there after a similar ban was imposed, leading to a significant reduction in trade.
“As with chicken two years ago, we will likely see a notable reduction in US pork shipments to Russia as the country tries to re-build its own pork sector," the analyst said.
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