* Russian watchdog says U.S., Canada violated import rules
* Concerns over chilled beef, pork products
* Temporary ban could begin Feb. 4
* Russia imports more than $500 mln/yr of US beef, pork
* USTR's office: "concerned" about Russia's actions
By Melissa Akin and Theopolis Waters
MOSCOW/CHICAGO, Jan 23 Russia may impose a
temporary ban on the import of some U.S. and Canadian beef and
pork products as of Feb. 4, amid concerns that they may contain
a drug used to make animal muscle more lean.
Russia's Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service
said on Wednesday that both countries were continuing to send
chilled meat products to Russia that violated its import rules
that require such proteins be free of residues from the feed
Such requirements are also in place in Belarus and
Kazakhstan, who are partners with Russia in a three-country
Russia's potential ban could jeopardize the more than $500
million a year in exports of U.S. beef and pork to Russia. It
also comes amid mounting trade tensions between the two
countries: The U.S. Senate last year approved a bill to expand
bilateral trade - legislation that also sought to punish Russian
human rights violators.
The Russian veterinary group "is especially concerned about
the import of chilled meat products to Russia," the service said
in an English-language statement on its website. Adding to their
stated concerns: Such chilled pork and beef product was showing
up in the Russian marketplace before the laboratory test results
for ractopamine had come back, Rosselkhoznadzor added.
In meat industry circles, the term "chilled" refers to
higher-priced protein products that are never frozen.
Ractopamine is used as a feed additive by livestock
producers in the United States and Canada and elsewhere. But
countries such as China have banned its use amid concerns that
traces of the drug could persist, despite scientific evidence
stating that it is safe.
The additive's effects on humans may include toxicity and
other exposure risks, according to U.S. groups lobbying the Food
and Drug Administration for domestic limits on the drug.
The United Nations has agreed on acceptable levels of the
drug in livestock production.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office
said the agency was "concerned" about Russia's actions.
"The U.S. is committed to ensuring that the meat we export
to consumers around the world is safe and wholesome. We continue
to call on Russia to suspend these unjustified measures and
restore market access for U.S. beef and pork products," said
USTR's Andrea Mead.
Leading U.S. meat processors Tyson Foods Inc and JBS
USA could not be reached for comment.
U.S. agribusiness giant and one of the nation's largest meat
processors Cargill Inc "believes in free market access
and science-based international trade," said company spokesman
A ban could strain the U.S. meat industry's ability to find
empty storage capacity in the public refrigerated warehousing
industry, which enjoyed a business boomlet last year as
livestock producers sold off their herds amid the worst drought
to hit U.S. cropland in more than half a century.
If meat companies with significant exports to Russia
suddenly had that market closed off, the U.S. "may see higher
inventories of beef or pork being put in storage, and not as
much movement of the product," said Lowell Randel, director of
government relations for the Global Cold Chain Alliance.
That, in turn, could drive down U.S. meat prices as
inventory supplies grow, say industry experts.
Randel said that the refrigerated warehouse industry in the
U.S. currently has about 15 percent available capacity, a normal
average for the sector. But, he said, some storage facilities in
the Midwest are filling up, especially those whose businesses
are dominated by the livestock industry.
"I was talking to one customer the other day, and they were
at 104 percent capacity," Randel said. "They were full to the
IMPACT LESS IN CANADA
A ban would likely have limited impact on Canada's livestock
industry, as Canada ships no chilled pork to Russia and only a
small volume of chilled bovine meats.
In 2011, Canada's fresh or chilled bovine meat shipments to
Russia were worth just C$216,000 ($216,300), compared with sales
of nearly C$15 million in frozen product, according to data
provided by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, asked about
Russia's position, highlighted the importance of basing
international trade rules on science.
"We will continue to work with producers as they strive to
maintain access into the important Russian market," he said in
an emailed statement to Reuters.
TENSIONS MOUNT OVER RACTOPAMINE USE
Late last year, the United States asked Russia, the
sixth-largest market for U.S. beef and pork, to suspend its
Federal officials also warned U.S. meat companies that
Moscow might reject their pork shipments that contained
ractopamine and stop buying pork from processing plants that
produced pork with the drug.
This week, the Russian Veterinary and Phytosanitary
Surveillance Service said U.S. and Canadian regulators had
failed to respond to requests for information on measures taken
to prevent deliveries to Russia of meat containing ractopamine.
Canadian pork shippers have promised to comply with the
Russian policy on ractopamine.
The Russian watchdog said imports from Canada were expected
to be free of ractopamine by Feb. 28, but it had no such
assurances from the United States.
Russia stepped up testing of U.S. and Canadian beef and pork
imports in December as traces of ractopamine continued to appear
in consignments of meat from those countries after a warning was
issued early in 2012.
But the service had said imports continued despite the