Russian food safety regulators will complete an audit tour of Australian meat processing plants this week – a process which industry stakeholders hope will ultimately lead to freer trade access to the Russian beef market.
Australian Meat Industry Council’s veterinary counsel, Dr John Langbridge, said the inspections so far had appeared to progress well, however any final decisions about individual plant access to Russia could still take ‘some time.’
An audit tour exit meeting will be held on Friday, when some results may be discussed.
According to records available on Russia’s Rosselkhoznadzor (Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance) website, up to six Australian beef export plants have suffered temporary de-listings for Russia this year. They include the Northern Cooperative Meat Co plant at Casino, the two export sheds at Rockhampton, T&R Murray Bridge and briefly, O’Connors at Pakenham.
De-listing tends to occur for one of three reasons: oxytetrcycline or cadmium levels, or for minor micro-biological detections that would be disregarded in many other countries.
The fact Australia has plants currently de-listed for Russia is not the slightest bit unusual, however, as Russia has had a history of delisting meat protein plants all over the world during the past 12 to 18 months – often for reasons considered very minor, by global food safety standards. Germany has been a recent target, for example.
“Some of the bacteria under scrutiny are normally present in beef samples – it’s just a matter of how much,” one reliable trade source told Beef Central. “The levels the Russians tend to be requiring tend to be tighter than virtually everywhere else in the world.”
Dr Langbridge said in reality, while the local temporary de-listings might seem harsh, Australian was faring much better than most supplier countries in terms of delistings to Russia, in a statistical sense.
Several meat processing plants chosen by the Russian authorities for inspection during the current Australian audit round have already regained their license to export in recent months, which is seen within industry circles as a positive sign. One is a large Central Queensland beef plant, re-listed in mid-October and the other, a smaller game-meat plant in South Australia.
However it is Australia’s aim to see all plants currently excluded from supply to Russia – the world’s largest importer of meat protein – being re-admitted.
“Ultimately what we are chasing is for the Russian authorities to recognise the Australian systems, rather than treating each processor on a plant by plant basis,” Dr Langbridge said.
Russia has recently acceded to the World Trade Organisation, which carries rules and requirements around such issues, and there is a growing belief that it may start to move towards a process whereby nationwide food safety systems are scrutinised rather than individual suppliers – as happens in most other importing countries.
The US and Europe are also seeking similar changes from Russia.
This week’s plant audit inspections include abattoirs licensed for beef, sheepmeat and game meat, principally for the supply of kangaroo meat, for which Russia was once the largest market for Australian exports.
Processing sources have told Beef Central that some ‘sensitivity’ exists between beef processing and game meats processing sectors, in the sense that beef export processors feel a poor report card from Russia for game-meats could reflect badly, and unfairly, on their own access prospects.
Part of the problem is that game meat health certificates are very different from those used in beef, with no ante-mortem inspection carried out, for example.
However one positive sign to emerge came from a recent European Commission audit of game-meat plants in Australia, where inspectors were said to be ‘very complementary’ about the progress made in the Australian game-meats processing industry over the past couple of years.