* Russia is the largest buyer of Brazilian beef
* Does not see enough grounds to ban all imports from Brazil
By Melissa Akin
SKOLKOVO, Russia, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Russia, the largest buyer of Brazilian beef, is unlikely to ban all beef imports from Brazil due to a suspected case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalitis, the head of Russia's veterinary and phytosanitary service said.
"We are analysing the data now, but we do not see enough grounds to place import restrictions on the whole country," Sergei Dankvert said in an interview on the sidelines of a meeting with Italian diplomats.
China, South Africa and Japan suspended beef imports from the world's top meat exporter while seeking details about the death of an elderly cow in 2010, which never actually developed the disease. None of these countries are significant buyers of Brazilian beef.
Dankvert said that if restrictions were imposed, they would most likely apply to the state where the sample originated.
Atypical BSE can arise in elderly cattle due to a spontaneous genetic mutation that causes the animals to begin producing distorted proteins known as prions. The proteins can trigger BSE, which eventually destroys the animal's nervous system, and it is believed humans ingesting beef from a stricken animal can contract a fatal form of the disease.
A 13-year-old cow in southern Brazil tested positive for prions, a result confirmed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) last week. But it died of other causes in 2010 and never actually developed the disease.
The animal was buried on the farm where it had been used for breeding purposes and never entered the food chain.
Russia, meanwhile, is also monitoring imported U.S. pork and beef for ractopamine, a feed additive, but has not turned away any meat since the monitoring regime was imposed, Dankvert added.
Russia stepped up tests last week on U.S. and Canadian meat imports for traces of the additive and demanded that both nations certify their meat as ractopamine-free. U.S. exports alone to Russia are worth about $500 million.
Ractopamine is in a class of drugs known as beta inhibitors or blockers that counteract the effects of adrenaline on the nervous system and slow the heart rate. In livestock, it promotes muscle gain.