The Russian ban on the import of U.S. chicken is about to enter into its third week with an indication that it could last an additional month.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov told reporters in Moscow yesterday that the country might lift the ban within 30 days.
Kasyanov, who has publicly been more compromising on the dispute than the Russian agriculture ministry has been, suggested that the embargo would be lifted except for U.S. poultry producers whose chicken meat has been infected with salmonella.
"It is now quite clear how the problem can be resolved," he said, noting that it is up to the U.S. veterinary services to "drop from the list of enterprises that export poultry meat to Russia those where salmonella bacteria were detected."
Industry officials in the United States remain skeptical that salmonella is at the heart of the dispute.
"They are just trying to limit imports," said Toby Moore, a spokesman for U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council. He was referring to the much smaller, less efficient Russian chicken industry.
"They are trying to put in a quota on imports without calling it a quota," he said.
If the ban is lifted in 30 days, it will be good news for poultry producers in Maryland and 37 other states.
Russia is the largest overseas customer for U.S. chicken, primarily leg quarters, and purchases nearly 40 percent of poultry exported by the United States.
No. 1 export to Russia
Last year, Russia bought 1.1 million metric tons of American chicken, worth about $630 million, making it the largest U.S. export to Russia.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. wholesale price of leg quarters has dropped about 35 percent, to slightly more than 16 cents a pound, since the ban took effect March 10.
According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, state poultry processors shipped $14.7 million in chicken to Russia last year.
Russia accounts for about 22 percent of the state's poultry exports.
The industry can't immediately cut back production to adjust to the loss of the Russian market, said Mike Pilcher, vice president at Allen Family Foods Inc.
`Chickens keep laying'
"The chickens keep laying eggs," he said. "The birds are in the field, and most of your money is already tied up in them."
Allen Family Foods has two poultry-processing plants on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Wire services contributed to this article.