Russia's Squawking May Pile Up Chicken Legs

Article excerpt

Americans prefer breasts, but Russians are more into legs.

That could mean a glut of drumsticks and thighs on U.S. grocery shelves if Moscow follows through on its threat to put a plug on U.S. chicken imports.

"There's not any contingency plans you can make. We can't grow chickens that don't have legs," said Archie Schaffer, spokesman for Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc., the nation's largest poultry producer.

Russian officials this week said U.S. chicken isn't inspected thoroughly, leaving it open to contamination from such things as heavy metals and salmonella. Moscow has warned that it may halt all U.S. chicken imports in 30 days if it determines that its complaints are not addressed.

The news from Moscow was "kind of out of the blue," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said Wednesday. It was particularly surprising coming on the heels of Russian Vice President Viktor Chernomyrdin's meetings with Vice President Al Gore last month, he said.

While the amount of trade at stake is relatively small - about $700 million annually - Russia is the largest export market for U.S. chicken.

Gene Moos, agriculture undersecretary for foreign agricultural services, said the United States has a "growing niche market in Russia" for dark poultry meat.

"The Russians feel that's depressing their domestic industry. They're looking for any kind of possible technical or scientific issue to try to slow down the volume of U.S. imports," Mr. Moos said.

The news caught regional chicken producers by surprise. …