AFP – Russia said Thursday that it would reinforce control over Turkish food imports citing frequent violations of safety standards, as tensions surged with Ankara over the downing of a Russian warplane on the Syrian border.

Some 15 percent of Turkish agricultural produce does not meet Russian standards with levels of pesticides, nitrates and nitrites considerably above safe limits, Agriculture Minister Alexander Tkachev said.

“Taking into account repeated violations by Turkish producers of Russian norms, the Russian government has tasked (the food safety agency) Rosselkhoznadzor with reinforcing control over supplies of agricultural produce and food from Turkey,” Tkachev said.

Russia will “organize additional checks at the border and at food production sites in Turkey,” he said.

Russia has found “traces of banned and harmful substances” in Turkish food products of animal origin some 40 times this year, Tkachev added.

Over the past 10 months Turkey imported agricultural produce and food worth just over $1 billion (one billion euros) to Russia, down 21.2 percent compared to the same period last year.

Turkish vegetables account for some 20 percent of vegetables imports to Russia, said Tkachev, adding that Moscow could opt to buy produce from other countries, such as tomatoes from Iran, Israel, Morocco, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.

Turkey also accounts for a quarter of Russian citrus fruit imports, he said, adding that the country could switch to other producers including South Africa, China, Argentina and Georgia.

Russia also said it could redirect its Turkish exports including wheat and oil to countries in the Middle East and Africa.

Over the past 10 months, Russian exports to Turkey amounted to $1.3 billion.

Russia is pulling out all the stops in response to NATO member Turkey shooting down its military plane.

While ruling out military retaliation against Ankara, officials have promised a barrage of economic and political measures.

President Vladimir Putin branded the incident a “stab in the back” and warned Russians against traveling to Turkey, a hugely popular tourist destination.

On Wednesday, lawmakers from the Kremlin-friendly A Just Russia party introduced a bill calling for a maximum punishment of five years in jail for those who deny that the mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey in 1915 was a genocide.

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