Russia removes ban on imports of chicken from United States

Tighter restrictions likely in next few months on shipments, Moscow says

April 16, 2002|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Russia lifted its 35-day ban on the import of chicken from the United States yesterday but warned of potential interruptions in the months to come.

In opening its doors again to the $630 million poultry trade, a Russian agriculture official said that Moscow was not entirely satisfied with the quality of U.S. chicken and would introduce stricter requirements in the next two to three months.

Russia also said it would not accept chicken coming from Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania or Maine, where there have been outbreaks of avian influenza in recent weeks.

Avian influenza is a fast-spreading disease that is deadly to chickens and turkeys. It is not harmful to humans, said Donald Vandrey, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Vandrey said the state was pleased that the ban was lifted "in time to avoid severe economic consequences to our producers." He said no decline occurred in poultry production in the state during the halt of chicken exports to Russia.

Russia is the largest overseas customer for U.S. chicken. About 8 percent of the chicken produced in Maryland and 37 other states finds its way to markets in Russia.

Last year, Russia imported 1.1 million metric tons of U.S. chicken, primarily leg quarters, valued at about $630 million.

Broiler production is Maryland's largest agricultural business. It accounted for nearly a third of all farm sales in the state last year.

About a quarter of all the poultry exported from Maryland ends up in Russia, according to the state Department of Agriculture. State chicken exports to Russia last year were valued at $14.7 million.

Delmarva poultry processors employ about 14,000. About 2,500 families raise birds for the processing plants.

Domestic poultry processors were happy the ban was lifted, but not overly so, said Toby Moore, a spokesman for the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, a trade group involved in the promotion of poultry sales worldwide.

"Nobody is doing back flips," he said. Moore said the industry is concerned about doing business with Russia.

"It will be some time before trade with Russia is back to normal, if it ever gets back to normal," he said. "It is obvious that the Russians want to control the flow of imports. Most companies will be trading very carefully with Russia. They don't want any ships interrupted because every `i' is not dotted and every `t' is crossed" on shipping documents.

Moore said Russia also has refused to accept shipments from 14 U.S. plants where chicken has been linked to traces of salmonella. He said none of the plants is in Maryland.

Tita Cherrier, a spokeswoman for Perdue Farms Inc. in Salisbury, said the company was happy that trade is being resumed. She said the ban had little impact on the state's largest poultry processor.

"We don't export a huge amount of chicken to Russia, and we were able to divert products to other countries," Cherrier said. "We export to about 40 countries."

It was not clear yesterday just when the shipments would be resumed. Russia said that although the ban was lifted, it had canceled permits to import poultry from the United States.

"The ban is lifted, but in fact there are no imports," said Sergei Kuznetsov, a Russian Agriculture Ministry spokesman.

Kuznetsov did not say how long it will take to issue new import certificates.

Russian officials applied the ban March 10 after complaining about sanitary conditions in U.S. plants, including salmonella contamination, and the use of antibiotics and feed additives in chicken production.

Bloomberg News and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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