Olympics' Yogurt Controversy: Yes, It's Real

Olympics' Yogurt Controversy: Yes, It's Real

Dairy groups say Russia's refusal to allow Chobani yogurt products into the country bring 2010 export issues back to the surface

Dairy groups on Thursday joined New York Sen. Chuck Schumer in a call to end a three-year Russian embargo of dairy products that is currently leaving the U.S. winter Olympic team without Chobani brand yogurt.

The yogurt, destined for consumption only by the U.S. athletes, is "yet another example of how Russia's blockade of U.S. dairy products is harming U.S. companies," says Tom Suber, USDEC president.

Dairy groups say Russia's refusal to allow Chobani yogurt products into the country bring 2010 export issues back to the surface

"Russia has turned a cold shoulder to many U.S. businesses trying to ship dairy products to Russia, despite our ample efforts during the past three years to prove their safety and quality. Reopening this market on a permanent basis would be a great benefit for U.S. companies and Russian consumers," Suber says.

Russia closed its market to U.S. dairy products in 2010 due to changes in what it demanded on the U.S.-issued statements, also known as health certificates, that have long accompanied product shipments in international trade and provide assurances regarding product safety.

Russia and its Customs Union partners, Kazakhstan and Belarus, have not sufficiently engaged with the United States in laying out a reasonable path that would lead to a long-term solution, dairy groups report.

Questions of WTO obligations
In attempt to remedy the yogurt situation, Schumer called on the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, to "permit a significant amount of Chobani Greek Yogurt to enter Sochi so that the Olympic athletes can eat this protein-rich, New York-made food."

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According to Schumer's office, the USDA has already requested the approval of a sanitary certificate, which ensures on behalf of the agency the safety of yogurt. The Russian government, however, has not heeded the U.S. government’s call for entry.

Schumer adds that the yogurt, which is currently held up at the Newark International Airport, will go to waste without Russia's approval, and "a New York company will miss out on an important marketing opportunity in support of America’s Olympians."

But for the National Milk Producers Federation, Russia's decision is a violation of its World Trade Organization commitment.

"With Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization, it's incumbent on them to live up to WTO trading obligations on fundamental food safety requirements," Jim Mulhern, NMPF CEO said.

"There is no rational reason why safe, wholesome dairy products consumed by millions of Americans on a regular basis would not be equally healthful for Russians. It's a shame they want cultural exchanges like the Olympics, but fear cultured dairy products," Mulhern said. "They'll welcome our Olympians but not their food."

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