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Uncertain Future for U.S. Poultry in Russia

Although U.S. poultry was only recently allowed back in Russia, it seems American chicken is still being eased out.

After a meeting between presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in late June, Russia agreed to lift a ban on American poultry that began in January.  Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had called U.S. poultry unsafe because it is treated with antimicrobial chlorine.

Details of the renewed export agreement were finalized in July, but resolving the dispute has been anything but smooth.

Last week, again citing safety and quality concerns, Russian officials announced a new ban, this time on using frozen poultry in processed products. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the poultry industry say there is no scientific basis or food safety rationale for Russia’s claims.

“Freezing is a long used, internationally accepted method of securing the safety of food products, including poultry and poultry products,” said a USDA spokeswoman.

Whether this is a safety concern or a trade dispute, Putin seems intent on getting his country chicken self-sufficient by 2015.

The loss of the Russian market would be a huge blow to American poultry producers–this year’s ban is estimated to have cost them $400 million in sales.  Russia has been the largest export market for U.S. poultry, a relationship that worked well in the past because Americans tend to gobble up white meat, while Russians prefer dark meat.

But, as a Washington Post reporter in Moscow pointed out last month, American poultry has been falling out of favor in Russia for some time.

“Russians liked [leg quarters] so much that they took to calling them ‘Bush legs,’ after the first President Bush,” wrote Will Englund. “But in the new pecking order, they come in close to the bottom.”

“For the first nine months of this year, they were banned outright, on the grounds that the chlorine disinfectant used by U.S. producers is unhealthy,” continues Englund. “Now, after a relentless full-court press by the U.S. industry, and hard-nosed bargaining over Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, they’re coming in again, washed with a different antimicrobial solution.  But Russian shoppers complain about their water content, and worry, after a campaign in the Russian press, about hormones and antibiotics.”

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