U.S. chicken companies, which in September resumed shipping to Russia, are facing a new interruption in business as a Russian official said that beginning Jan. 1 that country will stop buying frozen chicken.
The head of Russia’s consumer protection watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, on Wednesday told Reuters in Moscow the country will ban sales and processing of deep-frozen poultry meat from Jan. 1, both domestic and imported, because freezing hurts the quality of the meat.
The U.S. Agriculture Department criticized the ban, while the U.S. chicken industry was trying to get details on the action.
“There is no scientific basis or food safety rationale for this ban. Freezing is a long used, internationally accepted method of securing the safety of food products, including poultry and poultry products,” a USDA spokeswoman said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said the measure was an obstacle to Russia joining the World Trade Organization, and said both U.S. farm and trade officials had made that point to Moscow on a number of occasions.
“In that context, the United States and several other WTO members have expressed concern regarding Russia’s planned prohibition on use of frozen poultry and we will continue to work bilaterally and multilaterally to resolve this issue,” the USTR spokeswoman said.
The United States ships frozen poultry overseas and Russia was once the largest export market for U.S. chicken.
“We just don’t know what is going on. We are working with the U.S. embassy to try and find out what is going on,” said Toby Moore, spokesman for the trade group USA Poultry and Egg Export Council. “Hopefully, we can find out something today.”
Russia had banned U.S. chicken for much of the year because of a disinfectant. It has since lifted the ban on several plants, which switched to other disinfectants.
Moore said chicken shipments to Russia continue, and several vessels carrying 5,000 to 8,000 tonnes have already arrived.
Russia primarily buys chicken leg quarters, but it has been buying less as it builds its own production.
“If Russia implements a rule that only chilled poultry product can be marketed in the country, it would be a negative for U.S. poultry processors, including Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms,” Stephens Inc analyst Farha Aslam said in a note.
“The chilled poultry issue is an item that we will be watching closely, but one that will likely not materially impact chicken stocks until there are further developments,” Aslam said. (Reuters)