November 10, 2003

 

 

USDA Disapproves of Russia's Certification of Exports from American Poultry Plants

 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has found no basis for Moscow's recent decertification of four American poultry plants, an agency spokeswoman said last Thursday, bringing a new wrinkle to an already-troubled Russian trade relationship.

 

On September 26, Russian agriculture officials notified USDA that it had found an illegal hormone and salmonella on imports from four American poultry plants. The Agriculture Department said its investigation turned up no sign of either contaminant.

 

The U.S. poultry industry has repeatedly suggested that Russia was more interested in protecting its growing domestic poultry industry with trade barriers than making its food supply safer.

 

Russia is the largest foreign buyer of American poultry, mostly low-cost chicken legs. During the first eight months of this year, Russia bought 755,900 tons of U.S. poultry.

 

But trade has fallen in recent years, partly attributed to an import quota imposed by Moscow this year and partially due to repeated disputes over sanitary standards. Those disputes received high-level attention, including discussions by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 

USDA spokeswoman Julie Quick said an agency investigation of Russia's September complaints found that the poultry was tested for salmonella prior to departure for Russia "and those were all negative."

 

Salmonella, a bacteria that can cause illness in humans, is commonly found on meats and can be killed with proper cooking.

 

She added that the hormone in question, 19-nortesterone, "is banned for use in poultry production in the United States and there is no evidence to suggest that the hormone had been used in U.S. poultry production."

 

"We're continuing to work with Russia to try to get to the bottom of this on why these pieces of information are conflicting," Quick said.

 

Quick too added that the de-listing of the four U.S. plants would not result in a net decrease in American poultry sales to Russia.

 

USDA and U.S. poultry industry officials have refused to identify the plants. In addition, no details on the volume of shipments from the four facilities were provided as yet.

 

A Russian government official in Washington said that in a separate incident this week, one shipment of 7,000 tons of American poultry was being held at port because of inadequate documentation.

 

But the official added that he thought neither incident represented "a major problem" for U.S.-Russian poultry trade.