Russia bans U.S. poultry

Moscow claims improper labeling, additives in meat

March 11, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

In a move that could have serious consequences for the poultry industry in Maryland and 37 other states, Russia imposed a ban yesterday on U.S. chicken imports.

The halt in shipments occurred as a team of U.S. government scientists arrived in Moscow hoping to resolve a simmering dispute over Russian claims of improper labeling, use of additives and a lack of salmonella checks on meat coming from suppliers.

Talks aimed at ending the dispute are scheduled to begin today, though negotiations may be broadened to include other imports.

The Russian news media hinted that the chicken ban is Russia's response to a decision by President Bush last week to impose tariffs of up to 30 percent on imported steel, including shipments from Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov denied that the chicken ban is linked to politics. "This question must be solved at the technical level, at the level of experts," he said during a television interview in Moscow.

U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow met with the Foreign Ministry on Saturday and was given documents detailing health concerns of Russian veterinary experts, according to Itar-Tass, a Russian news agency.

James H. Sumner, president of the Atlanta-based U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, confirmed that the ban had taken effect as of midnight Moscow time, but said that U.S. chicken shipments in transit would continue to arrive in Russia over the next 20 days.

Sumner is in Moscow as part of the trade association's effort to promote poultry sales worldwide.

Last year, the U.S. exported more than 1.1 million metric tons of poultry - worth about $630 million - to Russia. Maryland producers sold more than $14.7 million worth of poultry to Russia last year.

"Broiler production is by far our biggest agricultural product," said Donald H. Vandrey, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Poultry sales in the state, including exports, totaled $460 million last year.

Russia is Maryland's biggest market for poultry exports. It accounted for 22 percent of the state's total poultry exports last year.

J. William Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., expressed hope that the Moscow talks will settle the dispute quickly.

He said it is too soon to say how the ban will affect U.S. poultry processors, but an embargo on exports would eventually force companies to cut chicken production.

Satterfield said poultry processors on the Delmarva Peninsula employ more than 14,000 people. Another 2,500 families grow chickens for the processors.

Wire services and Douglas Birch of The Sun's Moscow bureau contributed to this article.

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