One Southwestern Ontario pork producer evoked the spectre of Soviet-style food lines as Russian President Vladimir Putin reacted to Western sanctions by banning Canadian meat and vegetable exports Thursday.
With the London region Ontario’s pork belt, Putin’s food fight — part of the tit-for-tat escalating sanctions between Canada and Russia over the crisis in the Ukraine — could cinch area farmers hard.
Canada exported $213 million worth of pork to Russia in the first half of this year, said Dashwood-area hog farmer Teresa Van Raay.
“When you look at that, that’s a lot of meat that’s on the shelves,” she said Thursday. “And those (Russian) shelves are going to be empty. And that’s not fair to (Putin’s) people.”
Her first thought when she heard the news wasn’t for her own operation, the Whole Pig, but for the Russian rank-and-file.
“Why would a president put a sanction on food for his people? I hope he just realizes that this might hurt his people. And it also will hurt the farmers that are putting the food on the table,” she said.
Russia’s one-year ban on all meat, dairy, fish and fruit and vegetables exports from Canada and other Western countries is in retaliation for the economic and travel sanctions Canada and its allies have slapped on Russia in response to Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier this year, Russia annexed Crimea from its neighbour.
Lately, the two countries have been locked in a tense standoff over pro-Russian rebels pushing for separation in eastern Ukraine, where the Malaysia Airlines jumbo jet was shot down, killing nearly 300.
Ontario is one of Canada’s top pork-producing provinces, with most of that found in Southwestern Ontario.
Van Raay said it’s too early to judge how big of a hit she will take. But she’s worried.
“There aren’t any details yet to be had, so we really don’t know what their sanctions do mean. It sounds pretty scary when they put a year on it and that kind of thing, but we really have to wait to see, always that thing about the devil in the details,” Van Raay said.
Ottawa has pledged to stand behind Canada’s food producers.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper “has the pork producers’ back” said Industry Minister James Moore, though he didn’t detail how the feds will help the industry. He said the government will first assess the impact, then decide how to aid the affected Canadian sectors.
“This is an unwelcome market disruption,” said Gary Stordy, spokesperson for the Canadian Pork Council. “But this is not the first time there have been disruptions in Canada’s access to the Russian pork market. Our industry is adapting to the Russian government’s decision.”
The ban comes at a crucial moment for Canada’s multi-billion hog industry, only now recovering from a number of lean years due to restructuring.
Moore said Canada’s foreign policy needs to be based on principle.
“The sanctions will hurt Russia more than they will hurt Canada,” he added.
— With files from Reuters