By Will Englund
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 8, 2010; 12:51 PM
MOSCOW - The poultry business is aflutter over comments last week by Russia's top sanitary official about banning all frozen chicken as of Jan. 1 - a move that would effectively stop imports from the United States as well as Europe and Brazil.
Importers, wholesalers, distributors and processors are equally perplexed. The comments were a surprise and the plan would seemingly cancel a third or more of all chicken sales in the country.
About 30 percent of domestically produced chicken is frozen, as are all imports, which account for another 15 percent of the market.
"The market is really very much agitated," Albert Davleyev, director of the Moscow office of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council, said Monday. Only last month, American poultry producers had finally won their way back into Russia, after a nine-month ban imposed by the same Russian agency. That earlier ban had to do with the use of chlorine as a disinfectant; this one is provoked by the alleged nutritional deterioration of chicken when it is frozen and then defrosted.
The comments, by Gennady Onishchenko, head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare, left people in the poultry business wondering how Russians in remote parts of the country could get access to chicken. Onishchenko was quoted by Russian wire services as saying that freezing is an outdated technology.
Some of Russia's major poultry producers have appealed to the government not to impose the ban, saying it would hurt their business and raise prices for consumers. One wholesaler asked whether the government was planning to outlaw frozen ice cream next.
Russia is due to discuss the issue with trade representatives from the European Union on Thursday. "Everyone," said Davleyev, "is looking forward to the results" of those talks. He said U.S. producers are cautiously optimistic that the ban can be averted.
But the founder of one of Russia's top poultry producers, Sergei Lisovsky, has demanded that Russia prohibit all imports of chicken. Lisovsky, who is a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament and head of its agricultural committee, said in a recent interview that the only reason Russia was tolerating chicken imports at all was to help advance its application to join the World Trade Organization.
"Since we are not a member of WTO, why should we fulfill all these requirements?" he asked. "The quicker we stop fulfilling the WTO requirements, the quicker we'll be allowed in."