In response to the BSE epidemic brought to light in Europe over recent months, Russia has announced the continuation of a ban on meat imports from its largest source, the European Union. Aleksey Gordeyev, deputy prime minister and minister of agriculture, explained that despite a shortage of meat on the Russian market, the import ban would remain in place for the foreseeable future.

No cases of BSE have yet been discovered in Russia, but fears have prompted officials to ban beef imports from Portugal, Great Britain, Switzerland and six counties in Ireland.

A ban on imports of beef and live animals was first implemented on three French regions several years ago, but as of 20 November last year a further six regions were brought under the jurisdiction of the ban. Alarmed by the spread of the disease on French soil, Russia's veterinary service is insisting on controlling all beef imports, and have situated a permanent office in every EU country.

The news is disappointing for French butchers, who hoped to restore flagging export quotas during 2001, and who have already witnessed a drop in Russian exports from 21,800 tonnes during H1 of 1999 to just 3,800 for the same period this year. 

It is believed that the meat situation in Russia could become critical should the raging epidemic continue across Europe. Figures estimated by the Russian Federation Government's Economic Situation Centre suggest a 2% fall in meat production during 2001.

Declining imports could also provide some potentially positive outlets for the country's domestic industry, however. Importantly, Russian meat producers will find themselves with the opportunity to fill the niche left by the lack of imported meat, and the country's pig population increased 5.9% over the course of 2000.

The predominant fears of the Russian consumer do not lie in the quantity of supplies, however, but with the effect of those supplies on price. Head of the analytical section of the Institute of Agrarian Market Conditions, Larisa Dorogova, expects prices to rise by as much as 10% by the end of this year because of declining domestic production, rendering meat an increasingly expensive commodity.