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
Marina Koren
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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