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Russia still mulling food import ban: agency

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's food safety watchdog on Thursday said its spokesman's comments on threatened retaliatory bans of food imports from the United States and European Union reflected his personal views, as a list of targeted items had yet to be approved.

News agency RIA Novosti quoted the spokesman, Alexei Alekseenko, as saying all European fruit and vegetables and all produce from the United States would face a ban ordered by President Vladimir Putin to punish countries that imposed sanctions on Russia.

Bans on EU and U.S. goods would be "quite substantial", and would specifically include U.S. poultry, Alekseenko also told Reuters on Wednesday, although he declined to give a full list of banned goods.

But the watchdog, the Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS), "finds it impossible to comment" on Putin's order until the government formally approves the list of products to be banned, the body, known in Russian as Rosselkhoznadzor, said in a statement on Thursday.

"At the same time, a number of comments which appeared in media from an aide of Rosselkhoznadzor head Alexei Alekseenko should be regarded as a personal opinion of this expert and the scientist, and not as an official statement of the service," VPSS said.

The list is expected to be published on Thursday and will include fruit, vegetables and some meat imports, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported, citing unnamed sources.

It will affect about 10 percent of Russian food imports, or a value of about $4 billion annually, it added.

The list will exclude wine and baby food, the Vedomosti newspaper said, citing a government source. But according to another government source, it would include meat, cheese and dairy products, the newspaper added.

Alekseenko, the usual spokesman of the Russian food safety watchdog, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. When contacted by Reuters, other watchdog officials dealing with the media declined to say whether his information was correct.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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