Poultry industry confident it can meet Russian controls

Moscow's ban on chicken imports to be lifted April 10

April 02, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Domestic poultry officials expressed confidence yesterday that they will be able to meet any new controls set by Russia on chicken exports to that part of the world.

The controls are part of a weekend agreement signed by U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and Russia's chief veterinary inspector to lift a ban on U.S. poultry by April 10.

Russia imposed the ban March 10, claiming concerns about sanitary conditions in U.S. plants and the use of antibiotics and feed additives.

"I don't see anything in the protocol agreement signed over the weekend that we can't live with," said Toby Moore, a spokesman for the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, a trade group representing U.S. poultry processors. "It may result in doing things a little different, but it should not cause any major problems for our companies."

He said the ban and the adverse publicity in Russia concerning the safety of U.S. chickens will likely result in a drop in chicken sales to Russia this year.

"I would be surprised if we finish the year with exports equal to last year," Moore said.

David Kathman, a poultry analyst with Morningstar Inc. in Chicago, said "it is reasonable to expect a drop-off in exports to Russia. Anytime you have a dispute like this, it takes time for the market to get back to normal."

Jerry Redding, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said a delegation from Russia arrived in the United State yesterday "to look at our food safety system." He did not know the schedule of the negotiations.

Moore said the Russian delegation will seek to change the way poultry export certificates are issued in the United States. He was referring to documentation that accompanies all shipments of chicken to Russia. "They want them to be tamper- proof," he said.

Under the protocol, Moore said, Russia will not buy chicken from 14 companies, which it claims shipped chicken with traces of salmonella.

Moore did not identify the companies or plants, but said that none was in Maryland.

Russia is the largest overseas customer for U.S. chicken, primarily leg quarters. It purchases nearly 40 percent of the poultry exported by the United States.

Last year Russia bought 1.1 million metric tons of American chicken, worth about $630 million.

According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, state poultry processors shipped $14.7 million in chicken to Russia last year.

Delmarva poultry processors employ about 14,000 workers. Another 2,500 families raise chickens for processing plants.

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