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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Farmers Missed Their Cue in ‘Dairy War’

Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Federal Consumer Protection Service, scolded dairy companies Thursday for not taking advantage of a temporary ban on Belarussian milk to snap up a larger share of the market.

“If Russia isn’t going to dominate the markets for meat, high-protein foods and bread, then we won’t be able to solve the problems of food security,” he said.

The consumer watchdog banned imports of Belarussian dairy products for several weeks in June, claiming their packaging and hygiene standards did not conform to the latest Russian regulations. The rules, however, had been in effect since December, and the move was widely seen as part of a broader political spat between Moscow and Minsk.

Domestic dairy and juice producers were given a “tacit transition period” to update their packaging, Onishchenko said during a meeting with Opora, a lobby group for small and midsize business.

He estimated that small dairy producers would need to spend about 400,000 rubles ($12,600) making their products and packaging conform — an extra cost that would likely be passed on to consumers.

“Juices, milk and dairy products are top priority foodstuffs, and we do not want to bog down business with formalities,” he said, explaining the decision.

In other comments at the meeting, Onishchenko said Russian traders were hurt hardest when Moscow’s sprawling Cherkizovsky Market was closed in June.

Six thousand containers with an estimated retail value of $2 billion were seized by authorities at the market in northeast Moscow, and their contents are now being destroyed on health and safety grounds.

“I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of the products in those 6,000 containers … were made in Russia, in underground factories,” Onishchenko said, adding that mechanisms to allow such producers to trade legally were lacking.

Tens of thousands of foreign vendors lost their jobs when investigators ordered the market closed amid a crackdown on smuggling. City Hall has pointedly said it would only help domestic vendors selling Russian-made goods to find new trading space.

Onishchenko said his watchdog has been giving extra leeway to small and midsize businesses during the economic downturn, including slashing the number of planned sanitary checks on private enterprises by 21 percent.