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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poultry Inspectors Begin Work in America

Veterinary specialists from the Agriculture Ministry began inspecting U.S. poultry exporters on Monday for the first time since new sanitary guidelines came into force Sept. 15.

Ministry spokesman Sergei Kuznetsov said the group left Moscow on Saturday for a monthlong inspection tour of 366 out of 464 processing plants and cold-storage facilities used by poultry exporters in 10 states, including North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Massachusetts.

"The most important issue for the veterinary department during this inspection is to find out if poultry production and quality meet the requirements of the new Russian-American veterinary certificate," Kuznetsov said by telephone Monday.

Russia, the largest market for U.S. poultry producers, banned imports of U.S. poultry in March over concerns about production methods and salmonella.

The ban was lifted a month later after Washington promised to tighten export controls, but Moscow insisted that new safety demands be implemented during a two-month grace period.

During tense negotiations that eventually reached the presidential level, the deadline was pushed back to Aug. 1 and then to Sept. 15, when the United States finally acquiesced.

The standoff has cost U.S. producers, who exported more than $600 million worth of chicken and turkey meat to Russia last year, tens of millions of dollars.

According to the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, the United States exported just 509,200 tons of chicken meat to Russia through the first eight months of the year, down 34 percent from the same period last year, while turkey imports dropped 57 percent to 12,000 tons.

Revenues dropped 41 percent to $268 million in the period, USAPEEC said.

Russia remains the top destination for U.S. poultry producers, but whereas 36.3 percent of exported legs went to Russia in the first seven months of last year, only 31.9 percent did so this year, Interfax reported.

Last year, Russia imported 1.36 million tons of chicken and turkey meat, including around 1 million tons from the United States, while domestic producers supplied only 860,000 tons, according to official Agriculture Ministry statistics.

Kuznetsov said inspectors were not expecting to find any serious violations, but if they did, the offending company's products would be banned.

If a company is found guilty of a minor violation, Kuznetsov said it would probably be given up to two weeks to comply.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Ministry has yet to make a decision on introducing quotas to protect domestic producers.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry -- in response to complaints from the Russian Association of Poultry Producers -- launched an anti-dumping investigation of U.S. exports in July.

At the time, the ministry said it would raise tariffs while it looked into the matter, but it has yet to determine by how much. The import duty on chicken is currently 25 percent, but not less than 0.2 euros (20 cents) per kilogram.