Russia could become more open to meat imports than ever before following the sudden departure of the country’s chief sanitary inspector Gennady Onishchenko, according to experts.
Officials say Onishchenko’s resignation might result in the Russia’s sanitary service Rospotrebnadzor being disbanded, with its powers on the meat market given to Russian veterinary watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor and regional veterinary services.
"The government has for a long time been preparing documents on transferring some of the functions of the federal government to a regional level. In the future, all of these proposals will become bills,” said Russian MP Maxim Gusev.
“Onishchenko knows about this, but passing a bill to disband Rospotrebnadzor was impossible while he was in charge.”
He added that one of the main reasons for Onishchenko’s dismissal was the large number of restrictions and bans based on his proposals.
“By repeatedly implementing restrictions, Rospotrebnadzor has disrupted the work of the government on a number of important issues,” he said.
Rosselkhoznadzor has generally supported the idea of disbanding Rospotrebnadzor, as it would mean the country's two veterinary services would not overlap each other’s authority any more.
"We need a unified tracking system that would monitor the entire cycle of food production from the production and cultivation of raw materials to processing and delivering of products to the store shelves,” commented the press secretary of Rosselkhoznadzor Alexei Alekseyenko.
“This system should be free of voluntarism from an individual official. We already have developed a range of electronic tracking systems that can provide it.”
In recent years, Gennady Onishchenko became famous for his tough stance on imports of animal products.
His department at his initiative introduced a lot of restrictions, including on imports of pork and beef from the United States in early 2013, and many of these prohibitions, according to experts, were unjustified.
In Russia, only the department that imposed a ban can lift it, which was resulting in a situation where Rosselkhoznadzor could not lift a ban on meat which it considered to be safe for consumers because of the position of Onishchenko’s department
"In recent years Rosselkhoznadzor and Rospotrebnadzor have often overlapped each other’s authority and it was unclear who should control particular kind of products,” said market expert Sergey Gudkov.
“Now we have the requirements of the WTO that the veterinary and sanitary control in Russia should be carried out by one department.
“So it is likely that the resignation of Gennady Onishchenko will be the first step in a large reform of the whole veterinary system.”
Onishchenko was the head of Rospotrebnadzor since 2004 when the department has been created.