MOSCOW/WELLINGTON Russia plans to temporarily ban imports of beef and beef products from New Zealand from February 6 after finding the feed additive ractopamine in some samples, Russia's agriculture safety watchdog said in a statement on Thursday.
The watchdog, known as Rosselkhoznadzor in Russian, said it was also considering banning fish imports from New Zealand due to traces of mercury in some supplies.
Ractopamine, which is used to promote muscle growth, is prohibited for use in beef cattle in New Zealand, which promotes its reputation as a safe, natural producer in marketing its food products - particularly dairy - overseas.
"New Zealand did not receive prior notification and officials are seeking further clarification about the announcement," a spokesman for the Pacific nation's Ministry for Primary Industries said in an email.
The head of New Zealand's meat industry body Tim Ritchie, told local media the country ran a testing system for ractopamine in sheep and cattle, and that traces of the additive had never been found.
New Zealand is not covered by a wider ban on most Western food imports which Moscow introduced in 2014 in retaliation for Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.
The country's exported less than NZ$10 million ($7.3 million) of beef to Russian in 2016, out of NZ$3 billion in beef exports globally.
"New Zealand food standards are among the highest in the world and we are committed to producing high quality safe meat for domestic and overseas consumers," the Ministry for Primary Industries said.
Russia has previously limited imports in trade disputes. It has banned meat supplies from other countries due to traces of ractopamine, which is banned in several countries, including Russia and China.
Separately, the head of Russia's watchdog Sergei Dankvert plans to meet with an official from Brazil's Agricultural Protection Unit Luis Eduardo Pacifici Rangel in Moscow on February 3, Rosselkhoznadzor said in a statement earlier on Thursday.
Both officials plan to discuss cooperation in veterinary and phytosanitory issues, it added. Brazil is a major global meat exporter.
Russia imported red meat worth $1.5 billion in January-November, 2016, according to customs data.
($1 = 1.3721 New Zealand dollars)
(Reporting by Polina Devitt and Charlotte Greenfield; additional reporting by Olga Popova; Editing by Jane Merriman and Richard Pullin)