Russia may impose temporary restrictions on meat imports from the European Union (EU) because of the horsemeat scandal, the country’s chief medical officer has claimed.
Gennady Onishchenko, head of Russian health and consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, said he had sent a letter to the European Commission for additional assurance that these products would not hit the Russian market. He added that if such guarantees were not provided rapidly, Russian authorities would prohibit the import of all meat products from the EU, not only beef and beef products, but also pork and poultry.
“We will have to ban the import [of meat] until we finally sort out this situation,” he said.
Onishchenko also urged Russian consumers to abandon the purchase of meat imported from the EU until the scandal is resolved. “Refrain from lasagne, refrain from hamburgers. Today you should buy Russian meat,” Onishchenko said.
He added that Russia is ready, if necessary, to defend its point of view in court. “Let them prove in court that they are right. I think the whole EU will be on our side,” he said.
At the same time, representatives of Russian trade associations demanded that Rospotrebnadzor inspect any meat imported from the EU to Russia, whether or not it decides to impose restrictions.
“Our Union insists that Rospotrebnadzor should conduct veterinary inspections of all Russian companies who import meat products from Europe to our country. And the inspectors should check the whole supply chain and the supporting documents. This is necessary from a consumer health point of view,” said Mushen Mamikonian, head of the Russian Meat Union.
According to official statistics, Europe currently accounts for 40% of pork imports to Russia. Russia also imports around 90% of all processed products and 90% of the bacon used for the production of processed products from Europe. Experts predict that if this ban is implemented, it would therefore result in an unprecedented deficit of meat and processed meat products in the Russian market.
As the horsemeat crisis continues to sweep across Europe, EU Agriculture ministers met in Brussels yesterday to discuss issues including meat labelling and traceability.
The European Commission has already announced a testing programme for beef products across EU member states and UK Environment secretary Owen Paterson confirmed yesterday that the EC has agreed to speed up the publication of its paper into options for country of origin labelling for processed meat used in food. "This will help all member states form their own position on what any regulations would look like," he said.