#6 - JRL 7033
Russia Seen Eating 'Brazilian-Style' Given Expensive Home Chicken
21 January 2003
Report by Yevgeniy Arsyukhin in Berlin:
"Wish-Bone of Contention"
The Russian-American chicken war, which had
just about settled down, all but flared up again the other day. But a
major quarrel was avoided.
US Under Secretary of Agriculture George [as published] Penn sat down
at a table with Russian First Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergey Dankwert
in the congress center in Berlin, behind an inconspicuous gray door on
the second floor, and they came to an agreement. But questions remain. So
what are we going to eat today -- our own fresh or Uncle Sam's old stuff?
And will our own be affordable? Before, any shot in the chicken war has
been accompanied by a rise in chicken prices -- imports have become more
expensive because they have become scarcer, while the passionately loved
home producer has raised prices "just for the fun of it."
But first, what the scandal is all about. In September Russia and the
United States adopted a new veterinary certificate (code of rules),
tougher than the old one. Now we do not accept refrozen foods, we do not
accept pesticides, and the same goes for salmonella and mad chicken
disease (if such a thing is found). The certificate is to come into force
on 1 June and the Americans have pledged to punish their enterprises by
then. But it turns out that the Americans have been completely negligent
and have not punished them. This means that there will not be massive
imports of chicken legs on 1 June. What will happen and how it will
happen will be decided by the Russian and US veterinary services, which
(as was agreed in Berlin) will meet at the end of January probably in
In Berlin the Americans tried to accuse us of being overly critical.
The hours your Rossiyskaya Gazeta correspondent spent languishing outside
the door behind which the negotiations were taking place were spent
demonstrating to the Americans -- you are not actually modernizing your
factories and our demands are the same ones we make of our own chicken
farmers. Let us note in parentheses that ours find them easier to meet:
We simply do not have the same physical quantity of chemicals and
biological agents that are pumped into chicken in the United States, and
indeed in the EU.
Did the Americans not make a complex combination of moves, saying,
you have problems with Europe (it does not want our grain, but wants to
sell us its meat)? So let's find some kind of settlement with them and
you can be more liberal about chicken. It is not a new proposal. It was
made in the fall, when the US agriculture secretary came to Russia. But
our side preferred to separate "chicken from chops." Saying, we will deal
with Europe ourselves.
So what was the upshot? The naive consumer, who treats the papers as
Gospel, will, probably think that there will be no imported chicken to be
found on the shelves. This is not the case. Supplies of foreign chicken
legs actually increased during the war in 2002. Although they come from
Brazil, which gets financial support from those Americans. The idea is
that Russia should not get unaccustomed to imports while there is a
chicken war going on. Meanwhile, our producers, having made a number of
tough statements at the beginning of 2002, promising to saturate the
market with chicken meat in a matter of months, did not excel themselves.
The major thing is that prices are rising. The second major thing is that
those same imported chickens have started to be sold with Russian sauce,
as it were. This is what it looks like: You take a US chicken leg,
sprinkle it with pepper, pack it in plastic, with a label reading the
equivalent of Oh-My-God Inc, Fort Worthless, and sell it as your own
You can sympathize with the government: It is in an unenviable
position. On the one hand, home poultry production needs a boost for the
simple reason that our chickens are actually better. I mean, Ukraine
simply snubbed supplies of chicken legs. You know, if you drop in at a
typical Ukrainian diner somewhere on the Moscow-Kiev road and the chicken
legs... no, not legs, but thighs there are home-produced. Would that we
had the same!
On the other hand, the people need to be fed. Until recently chicken
was the only source of cheap food for people of slender means. It remains
the only one, but it is now far from cheap. Rising prices amid turmoil
can be easily put down to purely psychological reasons. Our chickens were
dearer than US ones anyway. The Americans see this fact as an indication
of our poultry industry's inefficiency, while our people blame state
subsidies, allowing chicken meat to be traded at half the cost price. At
any rate, the badly-off consumer may not be getting Bush's chicken legs,
because the home producer does not intend to fight for him, the consumer.
There remains Brazil, where US money has helped to erect super-plants
in double-quick time. Doe this mean we will now be eating
Brazilian-style? If our businessmen confine themselves to the simple
procedure of sprinkling with pepper and sticking labels on, then yes. Our
businesses must again demonstrate the ability to recognize corporate and
sector interests. It is hard to show something that is not there, but if
I were those businessmen, I would try to.