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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Legs May Be Banned March 10

APPeople buying U.S. chickens Sunday at the central market in the city of Yekaterinburg.
In a move jeopardizing one-fifth of all U.S. exports to Russia, the Agriculture Ministry stopped issuing import licenses for U.S. poultry Friday and said it could introduce a full ban on imports of the meat as of March 10.

Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev called the license suspension a "warning" to U.S. officials who have not divulged sufficient information about the antibiotics, preservatives and other substances used in the poultry industry.

"Russia is not the world's garbage dump for low-quality food," Gordeyev, who is also a deputy prime minister, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

In addition to reflecting health concerns, the ministry's move was widely seen as an attempt to protect the struggling domestic poultry industry and, possibly, to gain leverage in shaping Washington's decision on Russian steel imports, which the White House is due to issue this week.

Gordeyev and other ministry officials said they had submitted at least two requests, beginning in January, asking for detailed information on chemicals used in poultry production and had not yet received "exhaustive" replies.

"Until the American side provides a list of these substances and their formulas, the issue of allowing imports will not be considered," First Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Dankvert told Interfax.

U.S. officials were dismayed by the license suspension and denied withholding information.

"We have been cooperating fully and promptly with Russian authorities in meeting information requests. We know of no reason whatsoever that would justify a ban on our products," a joint statement issued Friday by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said.

According to the statement, Zoellick met with Russia's ambassador to Washington, Yury Ushakov, "to urge a quick resumption of U.S. exports," while U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Alexander Vershbow met with senior Russian officials to express concern over the suspension.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, and Zoellick's office plan to send a team of experts to Russia this week to push for resuming imports.

The intensity of diplomatic activity is hardly surprising considering the stakes.

Poultry exports make up 20 percent of overall U.S. exports to Russia, according to the USDA statement, and one half of all U.S. poultry export sales are to the Russian market.

Albert Davleyev, head of the Moscow office of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, told Ekho Moskvy radio that U.S. producers annually send Russia about 900,000 to 1 million tons of poultry, mostly chicken and turkey meat, worth $600 million to $800 million.

Davleyev said the Agriculture Ministry had given U.S. producers a clean bill of health two weeks ago, saying they met the veterinary service's requirements.

However, the head of the veterinary service, Mikhail Kravchuk, said Friday that American poultry exporters had frequently violated safety regulations, failing to provide proof of the veterinary service's approval for import, improperly labeling packages and even supplying meat from enterprises that did not have salmonella checks.

In a letter to the Agriculture Ministry, a group of scientists who had compared industry regulations in the two countries called for more stringent controls on U.S. poultry imports, Interfax reported.

The scientists said antibiotics allowed in U.S. poultry production included penicillin-based drugs, as well as sulfonamides and other antibacterial substances, which could cause allergic reactions or diminish the effect of such drugs during medical treatment. They also expressed concern over the longer storage periods permitted in the United States for frozen chicken -- six months as opposed to three in Russia -- saying this could indicate the use of preservatives and antioxidants banned domestically. Finally, the scientists complained about the excessive use of chlorine in U.S. poultry processing. The date of the letter was not clear from the Interfax report.

The Agriculture Ministry's request for additional information from its U.S. counterparts came soon after a Jan. 1 ban on U.S. poultry imports by Ukraine, which said the use of artificial ingredients in poultry production was illegal. Prior to the ban, nine-tenths of Ukraine's chicken imports had come from the United States. The European Union has also restricted American poultry imports, and China blacklisted several U.S. exporters and implemented tougher sanitary inspection standards in January.

After the Ukrainian ban, Gordeyev and other Russian agriculture officials expressed alarm that the ousted U.S. companies would be searching for a market for their products in Russia, whose own inefficient poultry industry has been floundering for years.

While domestic production grew 13.3 percent last year, it was still only half of what it was in 1990, according to Agriculture Ministry data. Some farms posted healthy profits in 2001, but 30 percent either lost money or barely broke even. Of 166 large and medium-sized poultry farms registered in Russia, only 29 are working at full capacity.

At the time, Dankvert said the ministry wanted to protect local poultry producers by implementing higher import duties and setting import quotas.

Domestic producers said Friday's decision to suspend U.S. poultry import licenses was justified.

"The point is not to rid the market of American meat, but ... to safeguard consumers from possible negative consequences," Nikolai Averyanov, head of the Russian Poultry Union, told Interfax. Averyanov also lamented the problems faced by Russian producers because of cheap imports. He added, however, that domestic producers would be unable to meet national demand for poultry. According to the Vedomosti daily, Russia produced just 564,000 tons of poultry last year.

Davleyev of the USAPEEC cautioned that a ban on imports would hurt Russia's poultry industry in the long run, saying that a short-term increase in profits would dissuade inefficient domestic producers from implementing badly needed streamlining measures.

Vedomosti speculated that the poultry import suspension could be intended as Russia's answer to U.S. threats to ban Russian steel imports as punishment for alleged dumping. A U.S. ban could cost Russian steel producers about $1.2 billion over the next two years, Vedomosti said -- about the same amount U.S. chicken producers stand to lose.

U.S. President George Bush is to decide by Wednesday whether to impose import restrictions on the 19 categories of steel imports that the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in December were harming the domestic industry. Steel companies claim new trade barriers are needed to save thousands of American jobs, but U.S. steel users worry they would send prices soaring.

(MT, AP)