MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia, the biggest market for U.S. poultry exporters, will ban imports from 19 producers in the United States and warned on Friday that another 29 suppliers face a possible ban on health and safety grounds.
The ban will take effect from September 1 and includes three plants belonging to U.S. meat giant Tyson Foods Inc, Russia's animal and plant health watchdog said, a day after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin first spoke of the measures.
"Joint Russian-U.S. inspections of U.S. poultry processing plants at the end of July and the beginning of August showed a number of inspected plants do not fully observe the agreed standards," the watchdog, Rosselkhoznadzor, said in a statement.
"The inspection showed that many plants have not taken steps to eliminate faults discovered by previous inspections."
The United States last year exported nearly $1 billion worth of poultry, mainly frozen chicken leg quarters, and other meat products to Russia. The ban comes as Moscow prepares separate cuts to existing meat import quotas to help domestic suppliers.
Rosselkhoznadzor said its inspectors had not been allowed to visit some poultry farms and had not received results of a probe into a possible excess of arsenic in some U.S. poultry supplied to Russia.
It said it wanted to receive these results within one month.
"A timely reception of this information by Rosselkhoznadzor will prevent the imposition of restrictions on poultry imports to Russia for 22 plants belonging to Tyson Foods, four plants of Peco Foods and three plants of the Equity Group," it said.
Agriculture Minister Alexei Gordeyev, in a separate statement, said inspectors had more than once found an excess of arsenic, salmonella, E.coli and other dangerous bacteria in shipments of U.S. poultry to Russia.
He said the bans on 19 U.S. poultry producers would not damage the Russian poultry market, as domestic output had risen.
"In the last seven years, poultry meat output has been rising annually by 15 percent," Gordeyev said. He said Russia planned to raise poultry meat output by more than 300,000 tons this year from the 1.9 million tons produced in 2007.
The minister said poultry meat and pork import quotas should also be cut by hundreds of thousands of tons.
"It is time to change the quota regime and to cut imports, which, lamentably, have been rising in the last few years."
Russia regulates imports of poultry and red meat by tariff quotas, which have been fixed for 2005-2009. The United States has the largest share of the poultry quotas.
U.S. industry sources told Reuters on Thursday, after Putin's remarks to U.S. broadcaster CNN, that Moscow had not yet contacted its poultry industry or government on the ban.
In March 2002, Russia banned all U.S. poultry for about one month, citing safety concerns such as salmonella contamination. The lifting of the ban involved top level politicians, including President George W. Bush and Putin, then Russian president.
Rosselkhoznadzor identified the banned suppliers by numbers. In addition to the three Tyson plants, the list includes two Sanderson Farms Inc plants, one Hormel Foods Inc turkey plant, and a Butterball turkey plant. Smithfield Foods Inc is part owner of Butterball.
The list of 19 banned plants did not include any of Pilgrim's Pride Corp, the largest U.S. chicken producer.