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.