* Move comes week before Winter Olympics in Russia
* Russia started blocking EU pork imports a few days ago
* Word of possible Russian resumption helped boost U.S hog futures
By Polina Devitt and Theopolis Waters
MOSCOW/CHICAGO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Russia plans to end a ban on imports of some U.S. meat starting with turkey in mid-February and pork by March, the Interfax news agency reported, citing its veterinary regulator.
Russia banned most meat imports from the United States, Canada and Mexico early last year due to concerns about the use of the feed additive ractopamine.
The regulator’s comments came after months of speculation among U.S. meat producers and market participants that Moscow could remove the ban before Russian ports freeze in the winter and its Black Sea resort city of Sochi hosts the Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to start on Feb. 7.
“We see a real possibility to resume turkey meat trade in February, most likely in the middle (of the month) or in the second half,” Sergei Dankvert, head of Russia’s veterinary and phytosanitary service (VPSS), told Interfax.
Pork imports may resume by the end of February, he said.
VPSS could not be reached for additional comments. Previously it planned to hold an inspection in February or March of several U.S. turkey plants that said they do not use ractopamine.
Ractopamine is a growth stimulant used to make meat leaner. It is banned in some countries because of concerns it could remain in the meat and cause health problems, despite scientific evidence showing it is safe.
The VPSS comments came days after Russia started blocking imports of EU pork in response to an outbreak of African Swine Fever in Lithuania. The European Union on Friday described Russia’s action as “disproportionate”.
Russia imported 1.0 million tonnes of red meat worth $4 billion from countries outside the Commonwealth of Independent States in the first 11 months of 2013, according to official customs data. Poultry imports reached 356,100 million tonnes at $0.5 billion.
Hog futures at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rose more than 1 percent on Friday, partly driven by the news of the potential resumption of U.S. pork to Russian ports.
CME hog futures for April delivery closed 1.175 cents per lb higher, or 1.26 percent, to 94.800 cents.
The June contract settled at 104.825 cents, 1.475 cents higher, or 1.43 percent, after hitting its highest level ever for the contract at 104.975 cents in electronic trading.
“Pork exports could come in the general time frame that we expect to see the larger impact from the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) breakout,” said independent livestock futures trader Dan Norcini.
PEDv was first discovered in April 2013 in the United States, the world’s largest pork exporter, and has spread to 23 states and Canada. The disease, transmitted orally and through pig feces, is lethal for baby pigs but does not affect humans.
U.S. hog futures traders are betting that the greatest impact from the disease in terms of reduced pork production will occur this summer.
Tyson Foods Inc, the country’s largest meat processor, said on Friday it expected pork supplies to drop 2 percent to 4 percent this fiscal year, while raising U.S. price for pork at wholesale, as the deadly pig virus spreads through the U.S. hog belt.
Jim Robb, director of the Denver-based Livestock Marketing Information Center said, “Russia’s import policies are often driven by political dimensions.”
He said Russia erects import barriers to U.S. meat when they feel they have enough product and removes them when needed, which is partly driven by politics.
“They don’t necessarily abide by international standards,” Robb said.