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Analysis of Russia's ban on Aus beef over hormones
(Friday, 11 April 2014 - Australian Cattlefacts)

Russia's ban on Australian beef started on Monday this week, with the Russians blaming hormone growth promotants (HGPs).

But the swift and comprehensive ban could also be retaliation against Australia's support for Ukraine.

Questions around HGP use have been gaining more traction in some international markets, despite decades of use and no evidence of impact on human health.

Oestrogen rich food

Professor of Animal production at Charles Sturt University, Peter Winn, says you'll get bigger doses of hormones from plenty of other foods than from hormone treated beef.

"For instance, a single egg would add a significant amount of oestrogen, progesterone, to your food if you ate an egg a day.

"Similarly soy milk, cabbage any one of a number of other vegetables would add significantly to the phyto-oestrogen content of your diet."

HGPs are approved for use in New Zealand, the USA, Canada, South Africa and Japan.

Meat and Livestock Australia says Australia would need to grow the cattle herd by two million head to compensate for reduced meat production if HGPs were banned. Treated cattle gain weight with at least 15 per cent greater efficiency.

"There's less greenhouse gas production; both methane and carbon dioxide, simply because the animals are grazing or being fed for shorter periods," Professor Winn said.

The MLA says it is currently not funding any projects to find direct alternatives.

Professor Winn says there really aren't any effective alternatives to HGPs.

"An alternative is beta-agonists, but they themselves have potential detrimental effects on human health.

"Beta Blockers are effective blockers for preventing heart attacks.

"So if you're giving beta-agonists which are the opposites, there is a miniscule potential risk if very high doses ever got into food.

"There really aren't any effective alternatives, and I don't know of any effective research going on."

Beef producers say there's significant extra costs for not using the hormone implants.

"I did do a trial. There's a $32 per head difference, increase in profits, from using HGPs. That was prior to the premium from EU cattle, which now covers the extra loss," said cattle producer Marc Greening.

Countries that ban hormone use in beef

A European ban on using hormones in beef production has been in place for nearly 20 years, in part to protect it from stockpiling cheap US beef.

Egypt, where the ears of Australian cattle have been cut off to remove hormone implants, requires hormone-free live cattle, as does Turkey.

Russia's decision to ban Australian beef, saying it found trenbolone in one shipment, came despite Australia recently introducing strict new measures to ensure it sent only beef free of HGP.

Stopping the $110 million a year trade this week is going to hurt producers like Marc Greening, of Injemira cattle stud at Wagga.

Injemira turns off 2,500 young grass fed cattle a year without using a single dose of HGP.

"There'll certainly be a trickle effect through and the Russian market has been growing steadily over the last few years, and has become one of our major markets.

"A lot of our cattle goes to Russia as a chilled product. I'll be impacted along with everyone else."

Russian ban on US beef

Russia banned American beef in February 2013, over 14 months ago, not for hormones, but over a different growth promotant, the beta-agonist Ractopamine.

"Russia was not a tremendously high value market, but we had come off a record year in 2012, worth $300 million," said Joe Schuele, from the US Meat Export Federation.

"We were selling high-end middle meats to the restaurant sector and they were a good buyer of livers and processing meat."

In Australia, sources don't believe Woolworths will follow Coles in banning hormones and China has not indicated any intention to follow Europe on the ban, as it's more worried about accessing enough beef.

But if China does raise the issue at free trade talks, Marc Greening says Australia is well placed to respond.

"I think HGPs have got negative publicity, and if the Chinese do go with HGP (free) status, Australia is primed due to our relatively non-reliance on feedlots compared to our competitors such as the US, that we can finish cattle off on grass without HGPs.

"As long as we're getting rewarded for the lower weight gain potential, it's certainly not an issue for me."



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