Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Health Issues Keep Poultry Ban on Table

Russia's top veterinary inspector said Friday that a ban on imports of U.S. poultry still could take effect Saturday despite assurances from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that there would be no halt to shipments.

The inspector, Vyacheslav Avilov, stood firm on the Agriculture Ministry's call for a ban on U.S. chicken imports after March 16 unless health concerns were fully resolved.

He said that while the U.S. side had agreed to "satisfy 90 percent of our demands," including antibiotics and pesticides control, it had not met a requirement to guarantee that all imported poultry be free of salmonella bacteria.

"If we do not find an appropriate solution, the import of American chicken will be stopped, as it was decided before," he said.

U.S. Embassy agriculture representatives in Moscow declined to comment Friday, and officials at the U.S. Agriculture Department in Washington could not be reached. Officials at Chernomyrdin's office also declined to comment on the situation Friday.

Earlier this week, however, Chernomyrdin's chief of staff, Vladimir Babichev, flatly dismissed the Agriculture Ministry's call for a ban. He said the poultry dispute had "been liquidated" during a telephone conversation between Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Avilov said the American side had not even responded to the latest Russian suggestions on the salmonella problem, though he said he hoped to negotiate with U.S. officials in the next two days.

Further complicating the dispute was a private report critical of U.S. poultry processing, Reuters reported from Washington. The report, released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said poultry slaughter and processing in the United States was unhygienic.

In addition to aggravating U.S.-Soviet trade, the chicken dispute has revealed a split within the Russian government on trade and protectionism issues.

The threatened ban was supported by the deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture, Alexander Zaveryukha, and the powerful Communist and Agrarian parties. They said imports of U.S. chicken were killing the domestic poultry industry.

Last year Russia imported $500 million worth of poultry from the United States, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, seeking to keep good relations with Clinton administration in Washington, has been trying to avoid a big trade dispute, which also might be a problem for President Boris Yeltsin in his current fight for re-election in June.

"Yeltsin needs U.S. support now," said Yaroslav Lisovolik, an expert from the Russian-Economic Center for Economic Policy. "Besides, cheap American chickens have become a major piece of everyday rations for a huge number of people, especially those who are not rich."

Avilov insisted his position is not political but "veterinary."

"The problem is purely veterinary," he said. "We had the same problems with many countries and always find a way out."