A bipartisan group of Senators is urging President Obama to make Russia’s current “blockade” of U.S. poultry products a topic of discussion during his meeting with Russian President Medvedev this week ahead of the G-8 summit in Canada.

In January, Russia banned the import of chicken from countries that use chlorine in poultry processing, a technique deemed safe by U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that is widely used in U.S. poultry production.

“We haven’t seen any readiness to meet Russian standards on the part of some of our partners, mainly the companies from the United States,” former president Vladimir Putin said in January.  “If our foreign suppliers are unable or reluctant to meet our security requirements, we will use other sources.”

For the past six months, the issue has caused constant argument between Moscow and Washington on food safety and trade politics.

whole-chicken-featured.jpg“The current ban seems arbitrary and capricious,” the Senators wrote in a letter to President Obama Monday. “Science has shown the use of chlorine solutions to be a safe and cost-effective way to maintain food safety during poultry processing.”

Senators on the Agriculture Committee question Russia’s food safety concerns.

“We understand Russia is still buying poultry from other suppliers, such as Brazil, where some facilities use the same process as those in the United States, without guarantees that they are not using chlorine solutions,” read the letter. “This disparity appears to be contrary to the Russian government’s assertion that its actions are being taken out of concern for the safety of its population.”
“The cumulative effect of the actions taken by Russia’s government has been to keep U.S. products entirely out of the Russian market,” the Senators wrote.  “We believe the United States and Russia should work together to promote trade between our two countries and lower barriers that undermine the bilateral relationship.”

In a joint statement, Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambilss (R-GA) called President Obama’s meeting a “crucial opportunity” to iron out the dispute.

“Our poultry producers are required by USDA to meet very stringent food safety standards, which help them produce a safe and high-quality product,” they added. “The Russians have failed to supply a reasonable, scientific explanation for restricting their market to U.S. poultry and we believe that their citing of safety concerns as reason for their trade barriers is baseless.”  

The poultry industry accounts for more than 500,000 jobs nationwide. Over the last three years, U.S. poultry exports to Russia have averaged more than $800 million in value, according to the Ag Committee.