RIGA - Several Latvian sprat canners will be unable to export their products to the Russian market for at least another year until Russian legislators amend the law to raise the level of benzopyrene allowed in canned fish.
Konstantin Eller, a representative of a Russian delegation in Latvia last week, said that regulating the two countries' varying levels of benzopyrene, a substance contained in charbroiled foods, could take a year to 18 months.
Russia barred imports of many Latvian sprats last year on the basis that the amount of benzopyrene, a carcinogenic substance, in the fish is over the 1 microgram per kilogram of fish allowed by Russian law. In the EU, by contrast, the norm is higher 's 5 micrograms per kilogram.
Latvian sprat makers and Agriculture Ministry officials cried foul, since for years Russia paid no mind to the limit and, more tellingly, Russia's domestically produced sprats also exceed the 1 microgram limit, an allegation that was proven true by a laboratory analysis of Russian fish in Germany.
But Latvian officials are keeping an upbeat assessment. "There is no ground to doubt Russia's preparedness to avert this trade barrier," Agriculture Minister Martins Roze said on June 28.
Both Russian and Latvian officials stressed that there was no ban on Latvian sprats, and only the products of certain companies, particularly Brivais Vilnis and Gamma A, had disappeared from Russian store shelves. Latvian Embassy officials in Moscow have confirmed that Latvian sprats are indeed sold in Russian stores.
Roze said that since Russia was keen to join the World Trade Organization, the sprat issue should be solved not just for the sake of Latvia. He also said that Latvia's experts would continue cooperating with Russian colleagues on adjusting the benzopyrene norms.
Eller did not say whether the maximum benzopyrene allowable in Russia could be raised to the European norm. As he explained, adjusting levels in Russia is not "a question of one day" since laws need to be changed. Nevertheless, the results of the revision of the norms may be known in a year, he added.
Eller said that the situation where fish processing companies want higher benzopyrene norms and controlling institutions lower ones is to be expected, and a scientifically substantiated middle ground should be found.
Latvia producers would like the norm to be raised to 10 micrograms per kilogram of fish, which Eller said was highly unlikely.
"There should be a scientific basis for any change. We're talking about a carcinogen that affects people's health," Eller said. "I think that the process of harmonizing Russian and EU standards could take a year, year-and-a-half. And it is unlikely the permissible amount of this substance will be raised to 10 micrograms."
He added that the Russian experts, who visited both Brivais Vilnis and Gamma A during the visit, better understood the complexity of sprat production and have seen that the two producers 's Latvia's largest 's are willing to cooperate.
Arnold Babris, director of Brivais Vilnis, told the Bizness & Baltija paper that the Russian inspectors' visit underscored that Latvia and Russia have different methodologies for evaluating the appropriate norms of benzopyrene.
"When the Russians take analyses, we meet their norms to the letter," he said. "But to export product to Russia, Latvia [officials] also inspect the sprats, and according to our methodology, we don't meet Russian norms."
Babris said he hoped the technical question would be resolved soon.
He said that the company was coping with the loss of the Russian market by trying to optimize production and export to China. He said unrealized profit due to the Russian ban would amount to some 200,000 lats (285,000 euros).