Lithuania, Estonia continue meat war

  • 1998-11-26
VILNIUS/TALLINN (BNS) - When the Lithuanian Veterinary Service revoked an Estonian meat processing company's license for export to Lithuania early in October, it did not know it would start a "meat war."

Last week Estonia returned the blow. The Veterinary and Food Inspectorate stopped issuing permits for imports of pork from Lithuania Nov. 16. The inspectorate did not deny its move is an answer to the Lithuanian game with Estonian meat.

Lithuania banned meat processing company Rakvere Lihakombinaat's exports, claiming that the company used meat imported from North America which does not meet European Union veterinary standards.

Estonia also referred to veterinary standards when it decided to restrict Lithuanian meat exports. Mati Loit, the inspectorate's deputy director, said no more licenses were issued because Lithuanian pork and pork products do not meet Estonian veterinary standards.

According to veterinary rules, pork from pigs vaccinated against swine fever cannot be brought into the country. There was an outbreak of swine fever in Lithuania a few years ago, and pigs are still being vaccinated against the disease there.

Loit said about 90 percent of the country's pigs are vaccinated, and this meat should not cross the Estonian border.

Earlier in November Lithuania agreed to allow Rakvere to export pig carcasses, following the Estonian Foreign Ministry's disgruntled note. After Estonia banned Lithuanian pork exports, Lithuania detained one consignment of pig carcasses claiming the lead content exceeded the norm by two and a half times.

Rakvere sent over 33 tons of pig carcasses to the Biovela company's meat processing shop in Vilnius district. The district's Veterinary Service said it will treat the meat to neutralize the dangerous amount of lead, and then it will be suitable for sale.

Rakvere said that Lithuania's standards for lead content in pork are absurd and far-fetched, established in order to restrict pork imports from Estonia.

"I am absolutely sure there is not a single pig in Lithuania with a lead content within the Lithuanian standard," Rakvere's Export Director Erkki Valmra said.

This year, Lithuania reduced chemical pollution norms in animal and vegetable fats to 0.1 milligram per kilogram, while the EU norm is 0.5 milligrams per kilogram. According to the EU standard, Estonian pork would have been suitable for consumption, Valmra said.

When Lithuania allowed Rakvere to export carcasses, it set a condition that each meat consignment should be separately examined. Valmra called this condition "a little funny," and said that it is connected with Estonia's ban on Lithuanian pork.

As each analysis takes an average of four days, meat export becomes senseless, because it is no longer possible to sell tainted meat, he said.

Ago Partel, director general of the Estonian Veterinary Authority, said Lithuania has violated the free trade agreement between the two countries by laying a veto on Estonian pork imports.

Under the free trade agreement, the countries have assumed the obligation to mutually accept the other country's veterinary inspection results, Partel said.

"Lithuania is directly transgressing the agreement, he said."

Partel agreed that it is international practice to check the contents of heavy metals or residual substances after a certain period of time on a large number of animals. But he called Lithuania's practice of analyzing each carcass separately "absurd."

Loit said earlier the two countries' veterinary inspectorates had managed to come to terms concerning standards, but Lithuania now disregards earlier agreements.

"As they wouldn't agree to compromise with us, we have begun demanding strict observation of Estonian veterinary rules," Loit said.

Partel said he thinks the problems can only be solved by the Baltic free trade committee, which will meet in mid-December.

Meanwhile, Valmra noted that this war "will bring good to no one."