By Alexei Anishchuk
NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia (Reuters) - The Kremlin said Russia must test imports of U.S. and Canadian beef and pork on grounds of safety, not politics, rejecting concerns the new demands, which could affect U.S. sales of $500 million, are in response to a U.S. human rights bill.
"It doesn't matter how much (the beef testing ban) is being politicized in the United States. What we care about are the reasons behind these decisions," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.
On Friday, the same day that the U.S. Senate voted on a measure to "name and shame" human rights violators as part of a bill expanding trade with Russia, Russia demanded that U.S. and Canadian meat imports be certified to be free of the feed additive ractopamine.
Some analysts said the Russian move was linked to the U.S. passage of the "Magnitsky list", named after Sergei Magnitsky, a hedge fund lawyer who died in prison during a corruption investigation.
Russian officials denied that this programme was a political response.
"Russian institutions are responsible for allowing only meat that meets the necessary standards into Russia's customs zone. If a country's food does not meet these standards, Russia's institutions take measures," Peskov said.
"In that case the opinion of our overseas partners is secondary to us compared with the work of our own institutions," he added.
Studies of ractopamine on animals and people have shown that high doses can adversely affect the cardiovascular system.
Traces of ractopamine have been found in consignments of meat from the two countries on a weekly basis since a warning was issued earlier this year, according to Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia's watchdog for animal and plant health.
The new requirement would potentially make the United States, which exports more than $500 million a year worth of beef and pork to Russia, significantly less competitive and provide an advantage to meat producers in China and the European Union, where ractopamine is banned.
The United States will continue to reach out to Russia to resolve their differences, welcoming the chance to have further technical discussions on the safety of ractopamine, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said in a statement.
The U.S. Trade Representative's chief agricultural negotiator is due in Moscow for talks on Wednesday.
"Russia has imposed a zero tolerance for ractopamine residues, effectively restricting Russia's imports of pork and beef products from the United States," it added.
Russia imported 1.25 million tonnes of red meat worth $4.47 billion from non-CIS countries in 2011 excluding offal, according to official customs data.
The additive, which is used to make meat leaner, has been banned by some countries despite scientific evidence that it is safe. The United Nations has agreed on acceptable levels of the drug.
(Writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Jane Baird)
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