Australia's biggest kangaroo meat exporter said numerous bans from Moscow in the past four years have crushed the kangaroo meat industry.
General manager of Brisbane's Game Meat Processing, Rex Devantier said the bans have shrunk the kangaroo industry to about a quarter the size it was four years ago, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.
The most recent ban from Russian president Vladimir Putin includes a range of Western food products in retaliation for similar sanctions over Moscow's support for rebels in Ukraine.
While these sanctions have little direct effect on most Australian businesses, with total trade with Russia worth about 0.3 percent of all exports, it has been a key market for some companies.
“If Russia came back tomorrow, we would not desert the European market,” Devantier said.
“[Russia is] too fickle. If our plants are running at capacity we are employing over 350 people, so you can't turn that off one week because someone says they don't want it and three months later they do."
Devantier's company processes about 800,000 kangaroo carcasses a year, more than 500,000 of which are sent overseas.
He said about six years ago, Russia appeared a promising export market, buying about 40,000 tonnes of kangaroo meat a year.
“In the past when kangaroos had access there, there wasn't a quota. So they were able to consume relatively large volumes of kangaroo meat.”
Kangaroo was popular in Russian sausages and salami type products because of its low fat content, but despite its appeal among Russian consumers, Moscow slapped several bans on kangaroo meat exports, which were worth about $180 million in 2008, after finding unacceptable levels of E.coli bacteria.
Doug Jobson, the general manager of Adelaide-based Macro Meats, said the Russians were using the wrong testing protocols for the meat, which he said passed Australian and European Union standards.
Jobson said the suspensions were politically motivated and did not only target kangaroo meat.
The Kremlin also banned beef exports in May, claiming it had detected growth hormones.
“It's a matter of fact that it [the hormone] wasn't used. The US is having same issue,” Jobson said.
“It just seems a lot more political than other markets we deal with.”
The Australian beef industry and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce dismissed Moscow's hormone claims at the time, saying the tensions over Crimea were more likely to blame.
“It's like saying 'oh we found roses growing wild in the hills'," Mr Joyce said at the time. "Well you might have, but I doubt it.”
Beef was Australia's most lucrative export to Russia, worth about $159 billion a year, ahead of dairy which was worth about $112 million.
But meat processors are confident they'll find another home for the products.
Devantier said Germany, France and Holland were key export markets, and the kangaroo meat industry was hopeful of striking a deal with China, which had the potential to be a “far greater market” than Russia.
“We would be able to sell our complete production to China … for as long as I could see in the future,” Devantier said.
“We've had our plant audited twice by Chinese authorities and passed. We have taken delegations out in the field to harvest kangaroos. The demand is there. We have just to date been able to establish a protocol with the Chinese authorities.”