Russia has hit back against media reports that its decision to tighten controls on ractopamine in meat products was a reaction to the Magnitsky human rights bill, passed recently by US Congress.
The bill, which was passed alongside a bill to normalise trade with Russia, will impose visa bans and freeze the assets of Russian officials allegedly involved in human rights abuses. The Russian foreign ministry described the law as “a performance in the theatre of the absurd”, while Russian president Vladimir Putin dubbed it “a purely political, unfriendly move”.
However, in an open letter to the mass-media, Russia’s chief veterinary officer Nikolay Vlasov denied reports that the country’s decision to introduce tighter restrictions on ractopamine, which is used widely in the US, had anything to do with the Magnitsky bill.
Vlasov said that by introducing the new rules, the Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (Rosselkhoznadzor) was merely formalising an enforcement mechanism for a policy previously set out by the Russian ministry of Health and the Customs Union Commission. “We have not imposed any new requirements – all of them were imposed many years ago,” he said.
“We are systematically preventing, and have been preventing for a long time, the introduction of products with ractopamine residues to the Russian market, because its absence is required by our legislation (in Russia and the Customs Union).”
Vlasov insisted the process had been done “democratically enough”, pointing out that exporting countries which use ractopamine – the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico – had three options for guaranteeing the absence of ractopamine. The first is laboratory testing before exports, the second is a veterinary guarantee declaring the absence of ractopamine based on surveillance, and the third is laboratory testing of the meat on arrival in Russia.
He added that the restrictions had been introduced for all countries that use ractopamine, not just the US. “We imposed absolutely the same control mechanisms in relation to, for example, Mexican beef and Brazilian beef. What has it to do with Magnitsky bill?” he said.
Vlasov went on to state that he didn’t believe that the rumour linking the ractopamine policy to the Magnitsky bill had been spread by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF), as some media reports suggested. “We didn’t believe in that from the very beginning,” he said.
He added that he had received a letter from USMEF vice-president That Lively, reassuring him that USMEF did not make the statements that were attributed to it in the news reports.
The US exports more than $500m-worth a year of beef and pork to Russia, but the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) currently has no testing or certification process in place for ractopamine. US trade officials have called on Russia to drop the testing requirements, claiming that they violate Russia’s commitments under World Trade Organization agremeents (WTO).
In a statement on its website, USMEF said it was confident that a “science-based solution to the disagreement over testing and certification” would be found quickly, allowing US beef and pork exports to Russia to resume in the near future.