The official reason given for the restrictions is the discovery of beef contaminated with anthrax in several supermarkets, butcher’s shops and warehouses in Germany.
"An investigation of the circumstances surrounding the incident revealed that infected meat was originally found at the end of September 2014 on a farm in Slovakia. Two outbreaks in Poland were also identified, with the slaughter of oxen as a result. A number of ready-to-cook products were infected, including roast goulash, stew and sausages," stated an official report by Rospotrebnadzor.
At the same time, the Russian sanitary service has promised to strengthen controls on supplies of these products from the whole of the European Union (EU). Although this seems an extreme measure, as none of these products have been supplied to Russia for several months, due to the food embargo from 7 August 2014, experts explain that, actually, there is a lot of sense in the statement as the possibility of importing contaminated meat to Russia is now higher than before the embargo.
"In fact, the anthrax problem has once again raised the issue of illegal re-exports of meat from the EU. In Russia today, everyone knows that, with some connivance from the authorities, supplies of meat are coming in, including from Germany. It is impossible to completely stop re-exports, but the problem now is that the Russian veterinary watchdog cannot check this meat for veterinary safety," said Russian agricultural analyst Eugene Gerden.
Russian experts say that, with the official ban on the import of ready-to-cook products from the EU, Rospotrebnadzor is sending out a clear signal to all trade partners that, from now on, any cases of re-export will be immediately punished with import restrictions, as the health of Russian consumers is at stake.
Officially, veterinary body Rosselkhoznadzor has not commented on the situation, but a source at the watchdog, who wished to stay unnamed, confirmed that the department was really concerned about the re-export of contaminated meat from the EU.
"The issue is very serious, especially because, in October, Belarus supplied several batches of meat products contaminated with African swine fever (ASF) to Russia. We assume they were produced from raw meat imported from Poland or the Baltic countries, where there were several outbreaks of this disease this year," said the source.
"This suggests that, theoretically, the channels of smuggling could result in the supply of anthrax-contaminated meat as well, which is much more dangerous. And it is clear that we have no ability to control these illegal supply channels as well as we previously controlled the official channels."
According to the official position of Rosselkhoznadzor, re-exports are currently being carried out by the partners in the Customs Union – Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as several EU countries, including Serbia and Switzerland. Also, Russia suspects that there are re-exports from some non-EU countries, in particular Turkey.