SUSPECTED traces of Tuberculosis (TB) prompted Russia to impose the highly damaging blanket ban on imports of beef offal from Ireland, the Irish Independent has learned.
The discovery of characteristics of the disease is understood to have alarmed Russian authorities who have cut off the supply of offal from Irish factories.
While the risk of humans catching TB by eating infected meat is minimal, a decision to impose the sanction was immediately taken by Russian health and safety experts.
Officials from the Department of Agriculture are now involved in negotiations aimed at getting the ban lifted.
The sanction was imposed last month following a series of visits from Russian vets to 12 food processing facilities in Ireland.
The move by the Russian authorities came as a major blow to the farming industry.
Russia has become one of Ireland's more important trade partners outside of the EU and US. Farmers exported around €90m worth of meat products last year – including offal.
While there was initial concern that the ban was linked to Ireland's support for EU sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict, the Russian embassy in Dublin insisted that this was not the case.
The Russian ambassador, Maxim Peshkov, insisted that Irish beef products have a "prime place" in the country's agriculture market despite the ban.
"There is a mutual understanding between the Russian and Irish authorities as to why this decision was taken. We are working towards international standards," he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture told the Irish Independent this week that Russia applies stricter rules surrounding the discovery of "lesions".
These are abnormalities in skin tissue caused by diseases such as TB.
"Under EU rules, the standard procedure when tissues are found with suspect lesions is to dispose of the relevant tissues, but not the entire carcass. This is entirely consistent with EU meat hygiene rules.
"Russian rules apply a different protocol to imports and require the entire carcass to be disposed of. The issue here is the protocol used within the EU as compared to the Russian protocol," the spokesman said.
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.