Russian firm Vozrozdenie’s slaughterhouse, located in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, started operating in late 2017 and has already delivered its first shipment of 276 tonnes (t) of premium venison to the market of Tatarstan, in the Volga Federal District, where the population is predominantly Muslim, according to Andrej Rusakov, general director of Vozrozdenie.
Regional authorities have encouraged Vozrozdenie to start exporting halal venison to the UAE in particular, said Dmitry Kobilkin, governor of Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, who was speaking at the Russian Investment Forum in Sochi on 16 February.
Vozrozdenie was also in negotiations with a meat importer from Iran, which was interested in purchasing a batch of about 250t of halal venison, Rusakov explained. The negotiations on this potential contract started in 2017 and were ongoing, he added.
Yamal is home to the largest reindeer herd in the world, with nearly 600,000 animals, and the region has already exported premium venison to the European Union (EU), according to the regional ministry of agriculture.
A promising segment
Venison production is deemed a rather new, but promising segment of the domestic meat industry, and halal certification could boost its export potential dramatically.
“The Taimyr wild nomad reindeer herd in Russia is the largest herd in the world,” Albert Davleyev, president of Russian consulting company Agrifood Strategies told GlobalMeatNews. “Russia’s industrial or farmers’ [venison] production is also the biggest.
“Russia exports about 500m t of selected reindeer cuts to the EU, mostly to Finland and Norway, and demand is increasing dramatically. One major problem is the lack of modern slaughter and processing facilities, but the situation is improving due to recent investments in the farming and processing sector,” he added.
According to Davleyev, demand from Middle Eastern consumers for venison, as a special delicatessen product, was evident and was driving Russian producers to seek halal certification and invest in further processing.
A threat from permafrost
Russian venison production could be considered organic, since most reindeers feed on pastures and their diet doesn’t include growth promoters, drugs or any other similar substances, according to Rusakov.
However, pasture feeding has also been linked to certain disadvantages, as it could have been the source of a major anthrax outbreak among the reindeer herd, registered in Russia in 2016.
This anthrax outbreak, the first in Yamal for nearly 75 years, killed several thousand reindeer and caused infection in 20 people. According to local veterinary services, the outbreak could also have been caused by global warming, as the ice covering old animal burial places in permafrost had melted.
It is not known whether this might recur, given the potential for further melting of the permafrost in Russian Siberia in the years ahead.