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Russians fear private households may have to slaughter cattle

August 13, 2015, 17:53 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Dmitriy Rogulin

MOSCOW, August 13. /TASS/. The Russian government’s rumored plans for restricting livestock private households are allowed to keep in order to make this branch of the economy more civilized has sparked an amazingly emotional reaction from society. Some instantly recalled the early 1960s, when the then Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev prohibited rural residents from keeping livestock at their private households, which promptly caused food shortages. True, the government does have a point when it says that this branch of the economy should be put in order, but it is far more important to avoid causing harm, experts say.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev several days ago instructed all ministries and agencies concerned to look into the possibility of legal restrictions on the amount of poultry and livestock private households are allowed to have. Some governors had complained that too many heads of cattle kept by private households were causing problems to neighbors. For its part, the Agriculture Ministry has long pointed to the sanitary need for adjusting the size of livestock to the available land resources.

At Thursday’s meeting of the Cabinet Medvedev said that no livestock restrictions on private households had been made yet.

"The legislators have asked us to look into the possibility of setting some rules for private households to abide by to ensure there should be no manipulations with their status. Such instructions have been issued, but this is a very sensitive matter. There have been no decisions at this point. And I am not certain any will follow," he said.

In the meantime, the public response was very quick and emotional. Many recalled the days when during the rule of Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev in the middle of last century peasant farmers literally had tears in their eyes while giving away cows for slaughter. No mandatory reduction of livestock in private households is on the agenda this time, Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich was quick to declare. "It is important to identify rational instruments and ways of ensuring compliance with veterinary and tax requirements and obligations by private households," he said.

"The people who live and work in rural areas should enjoy a considerate, friendly attitude," the online media resource VZGLYAD quotes a member of the bureau of the United Russia party’s Supreme Council, Vladimir Plotnikov as saying. Before 2008 Plotnikov had led the Agrarian Party. "Private households account for 48% of cows, 46% of sheep, and 85% of potatoes."

"We’ve seen some private farmers curtail their business to change their status to private households. The reason is there are far less administrative pressures, inspections and veterinary checks. If some restrictions are established today, say five cows and no more, while some may be keeping a dozen, what is to be done to the other five? Sending them to the slaughter?"

"All this should be put onto the civilized track. There must be no time-serving stupid campaigns that had once occurred during Krushchev rule. There should be no overdoing it," Plotnikov said.

Private households-related problems do exist and they have to be addressed, but that must be done through concrete decisions locally, by improving the available legal leverage, says the director of the Agricultural and Food Policies Centre at the Russian presidential academy RANEPA, Natalya Shagaida.

"The people already feel scared. In the rural areas private households account for a large share of people’s incomes," Shagaida told TASS. "And the timing is utterly wrong - the crisis is on and the prices of foods have surged."

Also, Shagaida believes that the initial presentation of the news to the public at large was very inappropriate. "At first, everybody thought that the government wished to restrict individuals’ incomes, because these days the money people earn by selling home-grown produce is tax-exempt."

True, some problems with private households do exist. In the first place they concern creation of normal conditions for all rural residents.

"For instance, in the Stavropol territory there is a problem of relations between neighbors. Some may keep just one or two heads of cattle, while others, as many as 50. All animals graze on the same pastures. An elderly woman keeping one cow at the most is being forced from that territory. They are unable to withstand such expansion."

Also, there exists certain taxation injustice in comparison with farmers, because some households look pretty much like farms. But the owners of 50 calves are listed as private households and pay no taxes.

The expert is certain that the question of restrictions on private households should be approached from a different angle.

"Each rural community should establish its own land management rules and the density of animals depending on the size of the plot of land. That would be clear to all. If you wish to have more, go ahead, have yourself registered as a private farmer and get the land you need."

It has to be admitted, though, that on the way towards establishing private farms there are too many bureaucratic hurdles and other problems many ordinary rural residents will never be able to cope with.

"If the government is really interested in legalizing the very small share of private households with large livestock herds, then it should apply a ‘carrot policy’ first and foremost. Rules must be made simpler to let people spend more time doing daily chores on the farm, and not going to a nearby town with loads of paperwork."

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