Russia announced on Tuesday that it had banned cheese imports from Ukraine’s three largest cheese producers due to the presence of vegetable oils, but one processor has hit back at the ban, while reports suggest the move could reflect higher political stakes.
The ban extends to three Ukrainian processing plants: the Pyriatyn cheese factory (owned by Milk Alliance Holding), as well as rival plants in Hadiachsyr and Prometei.
Russia’s consumer rights protection service, Rospotrebnadzor, said the ban had been imposed to ensure food security, and to guard against counterfeit products entering the nation’s market.
On January 24, the service published a list of Ukrainian firms that it said had provided false information on the composition of cheeses supplied to the Russian market, in violation of consumer rights regarding accurate product information.
Cheese falls foul of regulations
After tests on 14 samples, the Russian agency said that the Ukrainian cheeses had failed to meet requirements under Russia’s ‘Technical Regulations for Milk and Dairy Products’, specifically in regard to the presence of vegetable oils and notification thereof on product labels.
Given that 85% of Ukrainian cheese exports are sent to Russia – exports totaled 55,000 tonnes in the last 10 months alone – the dispute could prove to be a major headache for native producers.
Milk Alliance Holding (logo pictured) suspended production yesterday at Pyriatyn on account of the ban, and said in a statement that it did not understand it, especially since its plant had been checked on many occasions by Ukrainian and Russian officials.
The company said its products met all relevant Russian requirements, and that it did not even possess the equipment necessary to add vegetable oils to cheese.
Rospotrebnadzor said yesterday that its chief Gennady Onishchenko had held talks with the Ukrainian agrarian policy and food minister Mykola Prysiazhniuk aimed at resolving the crisis.
Sides locked in discussions
In a statement, the agency said that both parties recognised the need for “joint and concerted action” to bring cheese products into compliance with Russian rules and resume supplies.
A “sanitary-epidemiological" examination of the enterprises in question would need to be conducted, the service said, as would reviews on the status and availability of laboratories conducting quality control and safety checks on products exported to Russia.
But UKRINFORM, the National News Agency of Ukraine, raised the stakes yesterday, citing experts who it said suggested the cheese ban was a Russian tactic to entice Ukraine into its Customs Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan), and also reflected tensions relating to gas transportation.
Maria Kolesnyk, an analyst from AAA consulting reportedly told the news agency that the cheese dispute was entirely political in character, and that Russia had not provided any evidence of Ukrainian violations.