Russia’s ban on Australian beef imports because of growth hormones does not “ring true”, according to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, adding that the tensions over Crimea were more likely to blame.
The Russian beef ban, which takes effect from next week, could significantly damage Australia’s cattle industry, given chilled and frozen beef is Australia’s most valuable agricultural commodity export to Russia (valued at $173 million from December 2012 to November 2013).
Mr Joyce suggested the ban on Australian chilled and frozen beef was more likely due to tensions over the Crimean conflict than the excuse provided by Russian authorities, which was that they had found growth hormones in Australian beef.
“They say they’ve found it in Wagyu beef, which seems highly unlikely,” Mr Joyce told ABC radio on Thursday.
“I am highly dubious about the claim . . . it just didn’t ring true.
“The line of beef that it’s in, it’s like saying oh we found roses growing wild in the hills,” Mr Joyce added. "Well you might have, but I doubt it.”
“It’s a premium brand and it’s not one that you would put a hormone growth promotant in.''
Mr Joyce suggested that he was not surprised about Russia’s beef ban, given Australia’s vocal opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea by military force.
“The peculiarities and fractious environment that comes through the Crimean crisis, I expect that unfortunately trade gets tied up in . . . diplomatic issues,” Mr Joyce said.
“I’d prefer it wasn’t but in this case it has.”
But Mr Joyce appears to have changed his position since earlier this week. Fairfax Media asked Mr Joyce's office last week whether Australia's sanctions on Russia due to the Crimea annexation would affect Australian beef exports to Russia. Mr Joyce's spokesman replied on Monday saying the Agriculture Minister had no advice that the sanctions would harm cattle trade with Russia.
“Russia has not indicated that there is any connection between Australia’s sanctions and our meat exports to that country," Mr Joyce's spokesman said at the time.
Russian authorities advised the Agriculture Department on Wednesday that it would suspend Australian frozen beef imports and that the ban would take effect from April 7. The Russian government claimed it had found traces of the hormonal growth promotant trenbolone in an Australian beef consignment.
The Agriculture Department says it has investigated Russia’s claims and rejects them entirely.
“Department of Agriculture’s investigation found no evidence of the use of trenbolone in the cattle processed for the consignment in question,” a departmental spokesman said.
“A detailed report to Russian authorities has been submitted to outline the findings of this investigation.
“We believe Russia’s decision to suspend imports of Australian chilled beef, before having the opportunity to fully consider the information provided by Australia, is premature.”
The department spokesman said Australia “remains confident in the systems in place” to ensure compliance with Russian requirements, and will seek to resume trade in chilled and frozen meat as soon as possible.
Total Australian beef and veal exports last year had an estimated value of $4.98 billion.