Russia And Ukraine On The Brink Of A Cheese War

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian-Ukrainian relations face a new hurdle as Russia’s chief sanitary doctor Gennady Onishchenko said Ukrainian cheeses aren’t cheesy enough by Russia’s standards.

Local consumers need to be aware that they are buying a “cheese product,” and not actual cheese, given the amount of palm oil “used without control” by many Ukrainian cheese factories, Onishchenko told Interfax on Thursday.

A special probe has been launched by Russia’s sanitary watchdog Rospotrebnadzor as a part of a larger investigation, the agency reported.

Too much palm oil

The quality of Ukrainian diary products has gone down in general, and cheese factories have started using too much palm oil in cheese, according to sanitary watchdog Rospotrebnadzor’s report.

Imported cheeses occupy nearly one-half of the Russian market, the Institute for the Agricultural Market Environment wrote in a research report in May 2011.

And Ukraine exports tens of thousands of tons to Russia.

“Only in the past 10 months the approximate volume of [cheese] imports was 55,500 tons,” Onishchenko told Interfax on Thursday.

According to him, about 20 Ukrainian cheese factories export their produce to Russia.

“Produce from Piryatinsky Cheese Factory in the Sumy region, Velikoburluksky Cheese Making Plant in the Kharkov region, Zvenigorodsky Cheese Making Mill in the Cherkassy region and some others arouse special concerns,” the Rospotrebnadzor’s chief said.

Earlier protest

Protests over Ukrainian agricultural products started in the very beginning of the year, amid an unresolved gas dispute between the two countries.

Rospotrebnadzor called the Ukrainian Parliament to block a new reform that would delegate food control to vets, removing this responsibility from sanitary doctors on Jan. 8. Later, Onishchenko’s personal comments saw Ukrainian officials demanding apologies.

But attempts to impose limitations for cheese imports and accusation of non-animal fat use by Ukrainian manufacturers were seen even earlier, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported in June.

Back then, the proposal was made by Russia’s National Dairy Producers Union as they stated that Russian dairy product factories were already producing an oversupply of their own milk products.

Defending local sanitary jobs

Rospotrebnadzor’s vigorous reaction, however, could also be due to fears that Russia will later adopt a new food-control scheme, similar to the one just introduced in Ukraine, and today’s sanitary experts will loose their current jobs.

“I believe the comments from our boss [Onishchenko] are partially provoked by the fact that the Ukrainian sanitary monitors are giving up their responsibilities, and veterinary monitors, on the contrary, are gaining more powers,” Vladimir Labinov, executive director of the Russian Dairy Products Companies, said in an interview, aired on City FM.

“If this scheme becomes more widespread, it’s likely that it will also strengthen [the possibility of the scheme] in Russia,” he added.

And as for cheeses, Labinov believed there have been no changes in the quality of Ukrainian imports, which make up about 7-8 percent of all country’s cheese consumption according to his data.

Source: Moscow News