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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chicken Ban 'Could Be Lifted'

ReutersA test tube containing salmonella from U.S. poultry
Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev said Tuesday that a ban on American chicken that has clouded U.S.-Russian relations would be lifted if Russian veterinary inspectors are given more powers over U.S. poultry imports.

Gordeyev also said that birds treated with certain categories of antibiotics would be completely barred from the Russian market.

U.S. agriculture and trade officials met Monday and Tuesday with Russian counterparts in Moscow to press for an end to the ban, which went into effect Sunday. Russia says the ban reflects concerns about sanitary conditions and the use of antibiotics and feed additives in the United States. U.S. officials say the measure is not justified scientifically and accuse Moscow of protectionism.

"We have one task: to guarantee the quality and safety of food in Russia," Gordeyev said at a news conference. "In this connection we must outline clearer rules for interaction, as well as the rights the [Russian] veterinary service should have."

Those rules are to be laid down in a new Russia-U.S. protocol on veterinary cooperation, Gordeyev said. The current protocol dates from 1996.

Russian negotiators are also pushing for the right to inspect U.S. plants that have shipped low-quality poultry to Russia or failed to produce required delivery documents, Interfax reported chief veterinary inspector Mikhail Kravchuk as saying.

Suggesting U.S. veterinary standards were not up to par, Gordeyev pointed to "more than 10 shipments of meat that had American veterinary certificates but turned out to be infected with salmonella."

Russian officials have also expressed alarm about the use of antibiotics in chickens.

Gordeyev said U.S. officials confirmed that American poultry producers use antibiotics of the type that are used to treat humans -- a practice prohibited under Russian regulations.

However, he said it was still unclear whether such chicken had been imported.

In any case, Moscow "will insist that such meat does not enter Russia," Gordeyev said.

Gordeyev said he could not say how long it would take to work out a new protocol. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, said Monday that the U.S. delegation would stay until a solution is reached.

Chicken is the top American export to Russia, bringing in $600 million to $700 million a year to producers in 38 U.S. states.

The Russian ban came just as the United States was introducing new tariffs on steel, a major Russian export. Both issues have aggravated relations ahead of a presidential summit in May.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the issue Monday by telephone with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington wants the dispute to be handled responsibly and scientifically.

Gordeyev on Tuesday repeated Russia's denial that the chicken ban is a protectionist measure, adding that U.S. accusations to that effect were hypocritical.

"Their decision on steel is clearly political," he said.

However, Gordeyev said Russia's reliance on food imports was a problem for national security, adding that meat was the biggest concern. Imports account for more than 20 percent of the meat consumed in Russia and about 80 percent in major urban centers, he said.

Russia is developing a "food security doctrine" that will outline the country's policies toward food quality and sanitation and help achieve a minimum level of self-sufficiency, he said.