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Ban on food imports due to health concerns, not politics: Russia

Russia has introduced a series of bans against European food imports, with the Kremlin threatening bans against poultry imports from the US and EU. Moscow insists that the bans are due to health concerns, rather than a retaliation to recent Western sanctions against Russia.

MOSCOW: Russia has introduced a series of bans against European food imports, with the Kremlin threatening bans against poultry imports from the US and EU. Moscow insists that the bans are due to health concerns, rather than a retaliation to recent Western sanctions against Russia, which were imposed over it's alleged role in the ongoing violence in Eastern Ukraine.

The list of food items banned by Russia from certain Western countries has expanded, and now includes a range of poultry, dairy, and vegetable products. Since Moscow issued a ban against Polish fruits and vegetables, Polish apple growers have turned to the EU for compensation, having lost half of their total export market. But Moscow insists that these food bans are not a retaliation to Western sanctions.

Vladimir Gutenev, First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Duma Committee for Industry, said: "Apples bought from Poland or other countries are kept in the fridge for a crazy amount of time. That raises questions over their natural origins, and raises doubts whether they are truly not genetically modified produce, which has serious consequences on the health of our nation. Therefore the steps that our supervising groups are taking should have been taken long ago."

Banning a country's products for political reasons would violate the rules of the World Trade Organisation, and with these bans coming just days after Western sanctions, some exporters are accusing Russia of using foreign trade as what they call "a political football".

The Kremlin has justified the ban on US poultry after a Russian food watchdog said it found signs of an antibiotic in shipments. Russia is currently the world's second largest importer of US broiler chicken meat, and Russian plans for import bans have prompted US producers to look for alternative clients. However some representatives from Russia's meat industry see US and EU import bans as an opportunity to develop Russia's domestic industry.

Aleksandr Kostikov, a meat producer with the Chirkizova Group meat producer, said: "This will probably stimulate Russia to develop its own food production because in meat we are not yet self sufficient. In terms of pork we are self sufficient only by 70 per cent and as import from the European Union is now closed, that will stimulate producers to invest in new productions facilities... Such a big country with such a big heritage in agriculture should be capable to feed its population by itself."

But some worry that with inflation already high, banning cheap imports and depending on domestic supply could mean Russians paying significantly more for their food.

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