Hog futures wallowed at a two-week low Friday as Russia signaled it may halt pork imports from the U.S. amid a trade dispute.
December lean-hog futures shed 1.15 cents, or 1.4%, to 82.30 cents a pound at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and declined 2% for the week.
Russia told U.S. officials late last week that it will require the country to certify that all pork and beef shipments are free of the controversial feed additive ractopamine, which is widely fed to U.S. swine and cattle to produce leaner meat.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't have a testing and certification program in place to detect ractopamine residues in pork or beef, so Russia's requirement effectively would ban imports of U.S. product, said Joe Schuele, a spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Russia is one of the 10 largest importers of U.S. pork and beef, importing more than $500 million worth a year.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have criticized Russia's new demand that U.S. meat be government-certified as free of any traces of ractopamine.
"The United States calls on Russia to suspend these new measures and restore market access for U.S. beef and pork products," Messrs. Kirk and Vilsack said in a joint statement Saturday. The USDA said it is trying to work with Russian officials to resolve the dispute.
"Psychologically, it's bearish news" for the pork market, said John Kleist, a senior analyst with futures brokerage Ebottrading.com in Lakemoor, Ill.
The new demand from Russia threatens to put a dent in steadily rising U.S. agriculture exports. In 2010, President Barack Obama pledged to double U.S. exports by 2015.
Russia said all U.S. pork and beef shipments must be free of ractopamine. Sows feed at a farm in Albion, Ind.
.There is plenty of bad blood between the U.S. and Russia over ractopamine. A recent vote held by the World Health Organization's Codex Alimentarius that approved small amounts of the growth-enhancing drug in meat served to heighten tensions.
Codex, an international food standards body with 186 country members, held the vote in July over the protests of Russia, the European Union and others. U.S.-led efforts to allow small amounts won narrowly.
Russia denounced the measure and said it still harbored food safety concerns, according to Codex records.
The USDA said Russia's latest demand that the U.S. certify ractopamine-free meat flies in the face of both the WHO's Codex vote and Russia's commitments to the World Trade Organization, which it joined Aug. 22.
When Russia joined the WTO, it agreed that any food safety barriers it erected to trade would have to be based on a scientific assessment, something a USDA spokesman said Russia hasn't provided.
A WHO committee on food additives concluded that very small amounts of ractopamine in meat don't present a threat to human health.
Exports of pork to Russia from the U.S. were valued at about $208 million in the nine months through September, up 14% from the year-earlier period, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Beef sales, meanwhile, rose 25% to $242 million.
Some analysts said it was too soon for traders to become overly concerned with the trade spat. "We'll have some more product on the market, but we won't be overwhelmed with pork product," said Steve Meyer, a pork-industry economist with Paragon Economics Inc. "It's not as if the Japanese quit buying."
Japan is the top importer of U.S. pork and buys four times the amount of U.S. pork as Russia, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
Story courtesy of WSJ