Friday 24 October 2014

Russia bans imports of Irish beef offal following inspection

Declan O'Brien

Published 18/06/2014 | 02:30

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan has called on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney (inset) to engage with his Russian counterpart over the offal ban.
ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan has called on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney (inset) to engage with his Russian counterpart over the offal ban.

Russia has imposed a blanket ban on imports of beef offal from Ireland and has withdrawn permits to trade for a number of food processing plants.

The surprise move will exclude Irish plants from the valuable Russian offal market. Offal exports to Russia were worth more than €6.6m to the processing sector last year.

The decision has piled more pressure on cattle prices. This week quoted prices for both heifers and steers were back 5-10c/kg to around 375c/kg for R grades, while bull quotes were down 5-10c/kg to 340-350c/kg for R grades.

The move by the Russian authorities follows a recent inspection of 12 Irish food processing facilities by a Russian veterinary mission.

In a statement to the Farming Independent issued yesterday, the Department of Agriculture confirmed that a ban had been imposed:

"On June 11, the Russian authorities announced on the Rosselkhoznodzor website, that:

* The 12 Irish plants inspected in the recent audit will be temporarily restricted from June 23;

* All imports of beef offal from Ireland will also be temporarily restricted from June 23;

"We are still awaiting official confirmation of this decision as well as the final report on the results of the recent audit. The Department and the Irish Embassy in Moscow are working with the Russian authorities to try and resolve the issues as quickly as possible."

It is understood that a number of beef, dairy and fish processing plants have been affected by the decision. However, the blanket ban on offal imports could have an immediate impact. Russia had become a premium market for offal over the last few years, with factories exporting mainly hearts and livers to the market.

Impact

Processors were warning yesterday that the closure of the market could have an impact on the already weak beef trade.

"In recent years Russia had developed as an important outlet for certain beef offal products and the loss of this outlet will have a direct and immediate impact on returns from the marketplace. It is a blow at a time when overall market returns are challenged and cattle prices under pressure," a Meat Industry Ireland (MII) spokesman said.

Describing the Russian announcement as "extremely disappointing", the MII pointed out that for some time now, Russian veterinary inspections in other EU member states had resulted in removal of some plants from the approved list.

However, he said the blanket ban on offal exports was completely unexpected and would impact across the entire industry.

RUSSIAN MOVE NOT CONNECTED WITH POLITICS

The reasons for the offal ban and the imposition of restrictions on particular plants is still uncertain as the full report has not been released.

However, it is understood that Department of Agriculture officials are due to contact their Russian counterparts on the issue this week.

"The Department needs to get this as soon as possible so that we can respond to any issues raised and hopefully restore the trade without a major delay," the MII spokesman said.

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan also called on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to engage with his Russian counterpart to resolve the ban on offal products.

"We need to see this resolved as soon as possible," said Mr Phelan.

However, he noted that farmers had seen little benefit from the increased demand for fifth quarter products in recent times so he suggested that the factories could not expect to cut what they had not given in the first place.

Industry sources discounted suggestions that the Russian move was connected to the imposition of targeted sanctions on specific Russian officials and businesses following Russia's occupation of Crimea.

The continuing political violence in eastern Ukraine, and accusations of Russian support for rebels in the region, has prompted the US and Europe to threaten more comprehensive sanctions.

However, industry officials here said the Russian move was likely to have more to do with differences in quality standards and specifications than with politics.

Figures from Bord Bia show that Irish food and drink exports to Russia in 2013 amounted to €232m and were dominated by exports of prepared foods, valued at €112.8m.

Irish beef exports to Russia were worth €3.27m last year, while dairy exports were worth €17.8m. Pork exports from the EU to Russia were suspended earlier this year.

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