By TIM HEARDEN
Russia announced Thursday it would reopen its markets to U.S. poultry products, although chickens disinfected with chlorine will still be banned.
Under the agreement announced by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmetry Medvedev, U.S. producers will be able to send poultry that has been treated with pathogen reduction agents that have been approved in that country.
The USDA will post an online list of the disinfecting agents known to be approved by Russia for use in processing poultry, and the U.S. will give Russia a list of the solutions that companies use on poultry shipped there, according to the U.S. trade representative's office.
"This is an important achievement for U.S. agriculture," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "Russia has long been the largest export market for U.S. poultry and regaining access to that market has been a top priority for the Obama administration."
Negotiations between the two countries have been ongoing since January, when Russia effectively banned imports of U.S. poultry because of concerns about chlorine used in water to kill bacteria.
Farm groups have been fretting over the loss of sales to Russia, whose consumers bought more than $800 million worth of American poultry in 2008.
Thursday's announcement inspired cheers from the National Chicken Council, although details of the pact and how it would affect American poultry operations were still unclear.
Richard Lobb, an NCC spokesman, said U.S. processors will have to use other disinfecting products on chicken headed to Russia while still adhering to the U.S.' strict standards on reducing salmonella contamination.
"What you would do is run a plant in what would be called Russia mode," Lobb said. "It's kind of a question of economics and how much product is being handled."
U.S. trade officials have maintained that the safety and efficacy of chlorine as an antimicrobial treatment has been affirmed by the World Health Organization, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and Codex Alimentarius, an organization that establishes food standards.
The dispute came as the U.S. last fall filed a World Trade Organization grievance against the European Union over a similar chlorine standard, which has prevented U.S. poultry imports since 1997.