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Russians Ban American Chicken Over Bacterial Contamination

March 17, 1996

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia effectively banned American chicken imports this weekend over complaints that too much of the poultry is contaminated by bacteria.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zaveryukha said the ban would not be lifted until American poultry producers take steps to eliminate salmonella, a sometimes deadly bacteria.

``Russia stands and will stand on principle″ behind the suspension of import licensing, Zaveryukha said in a meeting with farmers Saturday in the city of Voronezh.

The suspension was announced Feb. 16, and the last licenses to import U.S. chicken expired Saturday.

U.S. poultry producers say Russian officials have been unclear about exactly when the imports would be stopped, indicating recently that the country might allow chicken under the old permits even after Saturday.

But combined with rising feed costs and domestic oversupply, even talk of the ban is enough to prompt the largest U.S. poultry producer to cut production by 7 percent, a Tyson Foods Inc. spokesman in Springfield, Ark., said Sunday.

``All I can tell you is that this thing is still very confusing,″ Tyson spokesman Archie Schaffer said. ``We are going forward with our plan to cut some production, and we hope that the situation with the Russians is going to be resolved quickly.″

U.S. officials have rejected Moscow’s complaints about health and sanitation standards and said the ban was simply an effort to protect struggling Russian farmers from U.S. competition.

Zaveryukha said the media was whipping up a ``political racket″ over the ban on imports, which was ordered by the Ministry of Agriculture’s veterinary department, the Interfax news agency reported Saturday.

Vyacheslav Avilov, the ministry’s chief veterinary inspector, said Friday that the United States had met most of Russia’s demands, but the problem of salmonella had not been resolved in time to halt the ban.

Moscow offered to meet with U.S. officials to solve the problem, but so far no answer had been received despite the expiration date of import licenses, he told Interfax.

However, Vice President Al Gore has invited Russian agriculture officials to Washington this week to discuss food safety and tariff issues, Dianne Wildman, deputy assistant U.S. trade representative in Washington, said in Saturday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper.

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin agreed in principle two weeks ago to drop the ban in exchange for assurances from Gore that the quality of U.S. chicken exports will be closely monitored.

Salmonella bacteria shows up in 25 percent of the country’s processed poultry, the U.S. Agriculture Department says. The agency is due to announce a major overhaul in poultry and meat inspections in a few weeks.

The U.S. procedure for salmonella testing does not satisfy Russia because it ``does not exclude the possibility of contamination with dangerous intestinal diseases,″ Avilov said.

Russia is the largest export market for American chickens, with shipments worth $500 million last year. Chicken legs, unpopular in the United States but in demand among Russian consumers, make up the bulk of the shipments.

The Russian market accounts for $180 million in yearly sales by Tyson, the largest poultry supplier to Russia.

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