Irked by Sanctions, Russia Is Going After America’s Chickens

When tensions heat up between the U.S. and Russia, chickens get caught in the crossfire.

National Journal
Aug. 5, 2014, 9:34 a.m.

Rus­sia said last week that it wouldn’t “fall in­to hys­ter­ics” over the latest round of U.S. sanc­tions, but the meas­ures have at least ruffled some feath­ers.

Chick­en feath­ers that is. Rus­si­an of­fi­cials have aler­ted the U.S. De­part­ment of Ag­ri­cul­ture that Rus­sia will more rig­or­ously in­spect its im­ports of Amer­ic­an poultry, Politico‘s Bill Tom­son re­ports. In a mes­sage to the de­part­ment, the Rus­si­ans claimed that sal­mon­ella, lis­teria, and oth­er con­tam­in­ants have been found on poultry shipped over from the U.S.

The de­cision ap­pears to be a re­sponse to U.S. trade sanc­tions. Last week, the U.S. Ex­port-Im­port Bank placed on hold all new Amer­ic­an trade deals with Rus­sia and stopped sev­er­al that were in pro­gress. The Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment’s For­eign Ag­ri­cul­tur­al Ser­vice an­nounced that it has sus­pen­ded all ex­port cred­it pro­grams for Rus­sia, which has used them to buy U.S. products.

The Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment re­spon­ded by say­ing all U.S. poultry ex­ports meet Rus­si­an stand­ards (of which there are many). Still, Amer­ic­an chick­en pro­du­cers are bra­cing for the eco­nom­ic im­pact should Rus­sia ban im­ports al­to­geth­er by lin­ing up oth­er buy­ers. “We’d be crazy not to be mak­ing calls to al­tern­at­ive mar­kets right now,” Mike Cock­rell, CEO of Sander­son Farms, the third-largest poultry pro­du­cer in the U.S., told Re­u­ters on Monday.

Rus­sia is one of the U.S. poultry in­dustry’s top for­eign cus­tom­ers, im­port­ing about 200,000 tons of chick­en every year. Most of that is dark meat, which ap­pears to have more fans in Rus­sia than stateside. (“A chick­en is a chick­en,” Rus­si­an pro­du­cers have said.)

U.S. pro­du­cers have seen this kind of re­ac­tion from the Rus­si­ans be­fore. In 2010, Rus­sia banned all U.S poultry im­ports for the bet­ter part of a year, call­ing a chlor­ine-based san­it­iz­a­tion pro­cess com­monly used in the U.S. un­healthy. U.S. chick­en pro­du­cers lost an es­tim­ated $400 mil­lion in Rus­si­an sales thanks to the ban, which was lif­ted when chlor­ine was swapped for an­oth­er mi­cro­bi­al solu­tion.

Rus­si­an con­cerns over West­ern food safety prac­tices of­ten co­in­cide with tense polit­ic­al re­la­tions. In 2010, the ban was a point of pride in Rus­sia, es­chew­ing the So­viet-era days of the early 1990s when the first Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion sent over Amer­ic­an chick­en as food aid. Dur­ing the South Os­se­tia War in 2008, Rus­sia black­lis­ted sev­er­al Amer­ic­an chick­en pro­du­cers over U.S. sup­port for Geor­gia. And in 2002, when the U.S. raised steel tar­iffs for for­eign trade, Rus­sia stopped im­port­ing chick­ens from the U.S.

Ban­ning a coun­try’s products for polit­ic­al reas­ons would vi­ol­ate reg­u­la­tions of the World Trade Or­gan­iz­a­tion, of which the U.S. and Rus­sia are both mem­bers. By cit­ing health and safety con­cerns, Rus­sia can avoid break­ing the rules.

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