- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

ELLENDALE, Del. Checking on his flock of 188,000 chickens last week as the sun began to dip below the tree line, Howard Clendaniel's thoughts were far away from his Sussex County farm.
A Russian ban on U.S. chicken raised by growers like him could have a significant economic effect on Delmarva poultry producers if it continues, says Mr. Clendaniel, who raises about 1 million chickens annually for Mountaire Farms of Selbyville.
"If it continues until fall or into winter, it's going to hurt us really bad," says Mr. Clendaniel, who nevertheless remains optimistic.
"I think they're going to get it worked out," he says.
Russia, the biggest importer of U.S. chicken, initiated the ban March 10, citing concerns about sanitary conditions in U.S. plants and the use of antibiotics in American chickens.
Industry officials in the United States believe the ban is simply an attempt by the Russian government to protect its own poultry industry, which is growing rapidly but still unable to produce enough poultry to feed that nation's consumers.
"This whole ban is not technical, it's political," says Toby Moore, spokesman for the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. "Nothing that they've said has any scientific merit."
Even the Russian people aren't so sure of their government's stated reason for the ban. A poll last month found that most Russians support the ban, but they were evenly divided on whether the ban is to help the domestic chicken industry or to keep inferior U.S. chicken off the Russian market.
Industry officials say about 8 percent of the poultry produced in the United States goes to Russia, most of it leg quarters. U.S. chicken known as "Bush legs" in Russia because the first Bush administration sent them as humanitarian aid, has become the top American export to Russia, involving producers in 38 states.
"Russia has been a strong market for us for several years," says Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council.
According to the council, Russia accounted for about 40 percent of all U.S. chicken exports last year. The exports totaled about 1.1 million metric tons, roughly twice Russia's domestic production, and were worth an estimated $630 million dollars.
Ukraine, which imposed a similar ban on U.S. exports Jan. 1, imported 69,000 metric tons of chicken last year, 90 percent of which came from the United States.
While Delmarva poultry producers account for only a small percentage of U.S. exports, local industry officials are keeping a close eye on negotiations to resolve the trade impasse.
"It's raised a lot of concerns," says Bill Satterfield, spokesman for the Delmarva Poultry Industry, a trade association. "I don't know if the companies have made any decision on what action they might take."
Tita Cherrier, a spokeswoman for Perdue of Salisbury, Md., says some product is being redirected to other countries but that the ban has not had a big effect on the company.
"We don't export that much to Russia," she says. "We're not one of the bigger players in that area."
If the ban continues, however, processors may cut back on production, which would have a direct effect on growers.
"If there's no outlet, no demand for the meat, then they'll start cutting us back," says Janice Vickers of Millsboro, who raises chickens for Perdue.
"I haven't seen any change yet, but that's not to say it's not going to come," she adds.
Producers could send fewer birds to growers, cut out some growers all together, or expand the time between deliveries of flocks, Mr. Satterfield says.
"There's just a lot of uncertainty," he says. "The companies have expressed their concerns to the federal people. The federal people are doing everything they can. The matter is up to the Russians."
Federal food safety and agricultural experts visited Russia last month but were unable to resolve the impasse. A Russian delegation is expected to visit the United States in the next few weeks.
"It's outlandish, some of the charges they've made," says Mr. Moore, noting that one Russian official claimed the United States exported only left leg quarters because that's where the chickens were injected with hormones and antibiotics.
U.S. officials say the leg quarters exported to Russia are not meant to compete with local production. Russian producers typically provide whole birds for the fresh retail market, while the frozen U.S. product is meant for lower-income consumers, they say.
Mr. Moore says the Russians have about a three-month supply of chicken in storage and that as the stocks begin to dwindle, a resolution will be reached.


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