WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday asked China to drop a ban on imports of U.S. poultry imposed because of an outbreak of bird flu in chickens and turkeys.
The United States wants China to limit trade only from states or regions that have had cases of the flu, which is deadly to poultry, Vilsack told reporters.
Cases of avian flu prompted China and South Korea to impose bans on U.S. poultry imports earlier this year. Last year, the two countries accounted for about $428.5 million in export sales of U.S. poultry meat and products, according to USDA data.
There are “no incidents on the East Coast, so why would you say ‘You can’t buy poultry from Virginia or North Carolina?’” Vilsack said.
China’s agriculture minister indicated he would consider Vilsack’s request, but linked the matter to U.S. limits on imports of poultry raised and processed in China, Vilsack said. The U.S. restrictions on imports of poultry from China are related to human health, while the bird flu is an issue of animal health, he added.
A team from China will likely visit the United States this year to observe measures U.S. poultry producers take to protect flocks from the virus, Vilsack said. The visit will be part of the U.S. effort to convince China to eliminate the countrywide ban.
So far, the outbreak of bird flu has affected more than 7.3 million birds in U.S. commercial flocks. On Friday, a USDA official told Reuters the department has $84.2 million in funds to address the outbreak. It is already aware of $60 million in indemnity claims that will be made by poultry farmers seeking compensation for culled flocks.
The United States also has pressed Mexico, the top importer of U.S. poultry, to ease its restrictions on imports of U.S. chickens and turkeys. Mexico limits imports from states with infected flocks, and the USDA would like the restrictions to be applied only to counties with infected farms.
Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Dan Grebler