Over the past week, mad-cow disease has driven the European Community's delegation here crazy.
Fear of mad-cow disease by customs officials delayed a 120-ton aid shipment of British-origin beef here at Sheremetyevo Airport early last week.While the meat wasn't infected, Sir Roderic Brathwaite, the British ambassador, spent most of the night pleading his case to no avail.
When a cow becomes infected by the disease, also known as or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, its meat becomes toxic.
"We had all the necessary documents supporting the shipment, but Russia didn't want to take it," said Catherine Magnant, an EC spokesman.
According to local press reports, the meat eventually was flown to the Russian Port of Murmansk to "freeze out" the non-existent disease, where local thieves stole a portion before they were deterred by armed guards.
While Ms. Magnant says the issue is now a "dead story," since after lengthy negotiations Russia has agreed to accept EC meat under specific terms, it appears to be another example of the difficulties of making aid shipments to the former Soviet Union.
EC meat must now come from cows three years or younger, with supporting documentation that it comes from farms that have not been infected with the disease for the same three-year period.
A broader scale, sources here say the mad-cow fiasco merely illustrates the daily bureaucratic scrutiny that most food imports, aid or no aid, come under.
"Health restrictions here are very strict. They love to bounce you around and tell you to come back in 10 days, but with perishables you can't," said Andy Vaughan, director of Armadillo Ltd., a local forwarder.
Mr. Vaughan notes another mad-cow incident last year with a one-ton shipment of Hungarian-origin beef that was transshipped through Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Moscow.
"When they saw the Netherlands on the documentation they didn't believe the proof-of-origin documents. By the time new ones were collected, the meat went
rotten," Mr. Vaughan said.
Many forwarders here, in fact, refuse to handle perishables for precisely that reason.
"I prefer to say no (to perishables)," said Winfried E. Scheidges, commercial director of MosTransEurope, a Dutch-Russian joint forwarding venture here, adding that storage facilities are inadequate.
Those that do handle perishable goods, such as Mr. Vaughan, suggest that one way to lessen the bureaucratic process is to make the packing list "a little vaguer."
"If you're importing two different types of oranges, for example, don't differentiate them," Mr. Vaughan said.