The Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia looks to be on the brink of a serious trade dispute after Kazakhstan banned the import of poultry from Russia and Belarus.
Kazakhstan veterinary experts said the ban was put in place after poultry meat supplied from Russia and Belarus was found to contain excessive levels of water, with traces of salmonella also found. The water content exceeded the allowable maximum level by 1.5 – three times, it has been reported.
"[The ban is applied to] poultry meat from Russia and Belarus. Firstly, this meat has a very high level of moisture content, in other words the carcases are pumped with water and it is unclear with what water," said Zhandarbek Bekshin, deputy chairman of the Agency for Consumer Protection and the chief state health officer in the country.
He said the Agency could not allow consumers to purchase animal protein with such high levels of water content, with the poultry meat found to contain salmonella also posing a threat to human health.
It is understood that Kazakhstani importers have accused poultry producers from Russia and Belarus of unfair competition, as well as the supply of poor-quality poultry meat.
According to the press service of the Agency for Consumer Protection of Kazakhstan the moisture content violations were identified in products from Smolevichy Broiler in Belarus, Prioskolye in Russia – one of the largest producers in the country, and Maikop ptitsekombinat in Russia.
In addition, products from JSC ‘Kursk Mriya’, Ural Business and Maikop ptitsekombinat in Russia have been identified as having committed labelling violations, while poultry meat produced at Smolevichy Broiler and Prioskolye was found to contain salmonella.
Experts say the use of water injection is common practice in the meat industry in the post-Soviet Union, as it allows producers to set a more attractive marketing price per kilo of poultry meat.
"We want to have competitive market, but also we want this competition to be fair, so consumers in Kazakhstan are supplied with only quality products, and our domestic producers can compete equally with foreign producers in both quality and price," commented Gulmira Isayev, Kazakh Minister of Agriculture.
She also noted that in addition to harming consumers, the supply of such products hurts local businesses. In particular the cost of Russian poultry meat on the Kazakhstan market is 15% cheaper on average than domestically produced meat. According to Isayev, demand for domestically-produced poultry meat in the country has dropped by 30% in the past year.
According to experts, the conflict could have far-reaching consequences and may even lead to a revision of some aspects of the agreement between members of the Customs Union.