UPDATE 3-Russia to ban U.S. beef and pork over feed additive

Fri Feb 1, 2013 7:41pm EST

* Russia bans imports of U.S. beef and pork

* Russia wants imports certified free of ractopamine

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW Feb 1 (Reuters) - The United States on Friday strongly objected to Russia's decision to ban all imports of U.S. beef and pork because it could have traces of the feed additive ractopamine, a growth stimulant to make meat leaner.

"These actions threaten to undermine our bilateral trade relationship," Andrea Mead, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office, said. "They are not consistent with international standards and appear to be inconsistent with Russia's WTO (World Trade Organization) commitments."

Russia's Veterinary and Phyto-Sanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) said in a statement it would impose a temporary ban on U.S. beef and pork starting on Feb. 11.

The move has been in the works for weeks and appears to one of several tit-for-tat moves taken by Moscow since the U.S. Congress passed legislation in December to punish Russian human rights violators.

Ractopamine is banned in some countries because of concerns that residues could remain in the meat and cause health problems, despite scientific evidence it is safe.

"We ... continue to call on Russia to suspend these unjustified measures and restore market access for U.S. beef and pork products," Mead said.

Russia got 7.5 percent of its imported beef and 11.4 percent of its imported pork from the United States from January to September 2012.

"Although Russia is not the largest export market for U.S. beef and pork, it's a very valuable export market," said Gary Mickelson, spokesman for Tyson Food Inc, the largest U.S. meat company.

"We'd rather not speculate about a halt in business to Russia, but we're hopeful the U.S. and Russian government can quickly resolve this matter," Mickelson said.

In Tyson's fiscal 2012 (Oct-Sept), Russia accounted for 9 percent of the company's $1.1 billion in international pork sales. The company's latest fact book did not have a figure for its beef sales to Russia.

Russia imported 1.25 million tonnes of red meat, excluding offal, worth $4.47 billion from non-CIS countries in 2011, according to official customs data.