Recently Russian watchdog Rospotrebnadzor instituted an administrative proceeding against Canskaya Poultry Farm in Krasnoyarsk Krai, following the identification of metronidazole residues in several egg shipments that the farm supplied to the regional market. It seems the industry still relies on in-feed antibiotics.
Due to regulations, the watchdog temporarily suspended operations to avoid further violations, but this case has turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg. In the opinion of analysts, the violations at Canskaya is evidence that antibiotic usage in Russian poultry farming remains a serious problem.
Russian veterinary and sanitary authorities are constantly monitoring poultry and egg production for the presence of antibiotic residues. In the process they regularly identify market participants who violate rules. The policy manual by Kemerovo Technological Institute of Food Industry suggests that residues of antibiotics in Russia are found in 15-26% of livestock and poultry products, claiming that chloramphenicol is the most widespread antibiotic.
As explained by Elena Tikhmyanova, media communication director of Russian consumer protection organisation Roscontrol, processing facilities cannot accept products with the rate of antibiotics above 0.01 units per gramme, in accordance with the technical regulation of the Customs Union. However, she admitted that not all manufacturers are complying with these requirements, as even independent checks of Roscontrol found excessive levels of antibiotics in eggs.
According to estimations by Sergei Lisovski, first deputy chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Agrarian and Food Policy and Environmental Management, median survival rate on Russian poultry farms today is about 92-93%. A rate of 90% allows owners to reach a break-even point, whilst with the use of preventive non-treatment feed antibiotics producers are able to bring this figure to 97-98%, increasing the margin of business 3 to 4 times.
At the same time, in some specific cases Rosselhoznadzor even reported they found levels of antibiotics in eggs which poses a direct threat to the health of consumers. During an inspection in 2014 at one of the poultry farms of Russian agricultural holding Siberian Agrarian Group, eggs were found to contain metronidazole 2 times above the maximum allowable level and nitrofuran – 14 times above the allowed level. The official spokesperson of the regional department of Rosselhoznadzor, Vladislav Fedyulov, stated that nitrofuran is a drug with an antibiotics effect. Regular consumption of these eggs has been associated with allergic reactions and suppression of the intestinal microflora of the consumer.
According to an estimation by the Russian consulting agency,Techart, prior to the current crisis Russia was using 3,500 tonnes of feed antibiotics annually. From this amount 23% was used for treatment and prevention of diseases, 19% as growth promoters, 36% as anti-parasitic drugs and another 22% as prophylactic agents. Consulting agency Abercade estimated that in 2009 the size of the in-feed antibiotics market in Russia was US$53.713 million, with imports covering 80% of all supplies.
In recent years, there were no studies on the changing size of feed antibiotics market, but in general most experts believe it was growing. For instance, in the period 2010-2015 Russia has shown strong growth in production of feed antibiotics nationally, increasing several times to nearly 80 tonnes in 2015. In the first four months of 2016, according to official data, the production volume of feed antibiotics exceeded nearly 2 times the level of the same period of last year.
Whilst antibiotic usage in the livestock industry is growing, the Russian food market faced a clear trend of consumer awareness and a shift to healthier products. This trend is strong, even amidst the falling purchasing power of the population. In this regard, the issue of antibiotics usage in poultry production is becoming a much more sensitive subject than it was decade ago.
For producers, especially the biggest, there is a serious public relations nightmare. Their image can be seriously damaged in the case of identifying residues of antibiotics in their products. This is partly the reason that none of the Russian poultry farms interviewed for this article agreed to disclose their practices and quantities of antibiotic usage. The spokesperson for the largest producers, including Cherkizovo, Miratorg, Belaya Ptitsa and Prioskolie either refused to comment on this issue or did not reply.
All market participants that agreed to talk about this topic claimed they are not using antibiotics at all. Vadim Vaneev, general director of Eurodon, Russia’s largest turkey and duck producer, explains that their closed-cycle production process at the modern farms and strict monitoring for compliance to the veterinary rules, allow the company to not use antibiotics or hormones at all. “Unfortunately, in current conditions of turkey and duck production for the Russian market, not all manufacturers place the health of the birds and the health of the consumers above chasing the largest profit margin. Such cases cast a shadow on the whole industry,” Vaneev says.
He adds a positive note: “With the development of the industry, in particular with getting Russian product to the world market, the situation will stabilise. People are paying more and more attention to the quality of the product, they care about their health and demands of the consumer to the manufacturer are increasing. This will lead to improvement of the situation,” he adds.
In the report from March 2016, Rospotrebnadzor suggested that over the recent decade the situation with antibiotic residues in Russia has improved, since the number of products contaminated with antibiotics in 2005-2015 decreased from 1.5% to 0.5%. In the report Rospotrebnadzor also claimed it started to develop a draft Strategy for the Development of the State Quality Policy and Food Safety, which, along with other measures, should establish a unified information system for traceability of food products, including information on the use of antimicrobial agents at all stages in the food supply chain.
This document should also prescribe reduction goals for the presence of residues of antimicrobial drugs; reduction of the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics, especially of the tetracycline group and the further development of guidelines on risk assessment for humans, associated with the presence of antimicrobial agents in food. It remains unknown when the document will be ready.
As stated by Dmitry Rylko, CEO of the Institute of Conjuncture of Agricultural Market (ICAR), the main things to improve in the antibiotic situation in poultry feed in Russia, is to tackle the high density of birds at poultry farms as well as the development and getting to the market of specialised poultry antibiotics. He explained, there are already some of these poultry specific antibiotics available on the market. That said, limiting high density requires relevant legislative amendments in the first place.
According to Russian analysts, the main problem of feed antibiotics in the country’s poultry industry is associated not with incidents of identifying residues in products at the grocery shelves, but with the common practice of antibiotic use at the farms. As explained by Petr Kanardov, general director of consulting agency Feedland Group, there are fundamental differences in the approach to the use of feed antibiotics in poultry feeding in Russia and western countries. “In the west, the use of growth promoting antibiotics is prohibited since 2006, in order to prevent the emergence of so-called superbugs. In Russia the main focus is the absence of residual antibiotics in livestock production. In other words, Russian manufacturers can use these drugs in unlimited quantities. The main thing is that they should not be found in the final product,” Kanardov explains. “At the same time, the emergence of superbugs in Russia is not considered a serious threat. For both large and small producers it is much easier to use feed antibiotics in order to get ‘insurance’ against possible bacterial infections, rather than improving sanitary conditions of animals or using alternative methods of control of the microflora,” he adds.
At the same time, according to Albert Davleev, president of consulting agency Agrifood Strategies, the antibiotic-free trend has not yet reached Russia as the country’s livestock sector finds itself in the early phase of transition from extensive development to intensive and more effective production. “At this stage improving performance as the primary goal suggests an even higher use of antibiotics, vaccines, coccidiostats and other veterinary preparations. Therefore Russia, for the next several years, will see an increased usage of antibiotics. At the same time, many companies which have reached good performance indicators, are already trying probiotics, prebiotics and other preparations along with serious improvement in biosecurity practices and implementation of animal welfare requirements,” he says.
“Rapid development of Western fast food chains and processors (McDonalds, Cargill, etc.) in Russia brings new requirements developed in Europe and North America, with implications for local suppliers of raw materials, including the ‘prudent use of antibiotics’ policies. Major retail chains would welcome AF poultry products to their meat supply. This may come into effect next year or so,” Davleev says.
Kanardov agrees with this statement, claiming that he is confident that if McDonalds and other companies would put forward similar demands for poultry products, as in other countries, Russian companies can shift to new approaches in terms of antibiotic use. Already now he is seeing a rise in the demand for treatment and prevention additives based on organic acids, for example on the basis of sodium diformate. Shifting from antibiotics in non-treatment purposes might also be important for Russian producers in terms of developing export, he says.
With exports produced without antibiotics, Davleev of Rosselkhoznadzor claims that the percentage of positive tests for antibiotics in domestic poultry meat is steadily increasing. These findings are supported by the Russian Institute of Probiotics, according to which antibiotic use in Russian livestock production increased in 2005-2009 by 2.3 times, in 2008-2012 by 1.8 times and is expected to reach the level of their total use in the United States livestock sector in 2018-2020.
There is only limited pressure on violating companies. A producer can be subjected with a fine, but in most cases the fine will not exceed US$500. And a violation almost never makes it to court. Davleev explains: “In rare cases antibiotic findings causes serious trouble for violators. For example, in 2013, the director and chief veterinarian of an egg farm in Petropavlosk Kamchatsky (Russian Far East) was convicted of administering therapeutic antibiotics to egg layers during the production period. However, a couple of months later he was granted amnesty. This is perhaps the only case of prosecution in antibiotic legislation violation by poultry producers in Russia for the last decade. “To avoid excessive or unnecessary use of antibiotics in livestock (including poultry meat and eggs) production, Russia needs an effective federal laboratory monitoring system which would be independent from the local authorities and need to have enough funding to sustain regular and random tests on feeds and finished products,” Davleev states.
“Being realistic, in the current financial situation, Russia cannot afford even the pre-crisis (before 2014) level of monitoring due to budgetary cuts and dramatic local currency depreciation, which makes the cost of many tests prohibitive due to great dependence on foreign equipment, media, chemical agents, consumables, etc. Besides, the criminal and administrative prosecution for the violation of the federal regulations should be strictly enforced and such cases made public,” he adds.