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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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CVM Scientists Help Resolve Russia-U.S. Trade Dispute on Poultry

by Steven D. Brynes, Ph.D. and Nicholas E. Weber, Ph.D.
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter January/February 2003 Volume XVIII, No 1

Two Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) scientists, Dr. Nicholas Weber and Dr. Steven Brynes, both of the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation, played key roles in the resolution of last year's trade dispute with Russia over the export of poultry from the United States. At the request of Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and as part of CVM's responsibility to communicate the scientific basis for its regulatory requirements, both scientists served on U.S. Government negotiation teams as technical experts on human food safety, particularly drug residues. The teams also included representatives from USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, Food Safety and Inspection Service, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and the U.S. Trade Representative's Office.

On March 10, 2002, Russia imposed a temporary import ban on U.S. poultry. The measure created a significant crisis for U.S. poultry and poultry products. The Russian market is very important to U.S. poultry meat producers, accounting for approximately $600 million in exports annually, and the ban quickly caused serious economic damage in many poultry-growing regions of the U.S.

From the U.S. perspective, there was no justification for the ban. All U.S. poultry exports were certified to be in compliance with Russia's export veterinary certificate that had been agreed to in 1996. USDA argued that all U.S. poultry that bears the USDA mark of inspection was subject to every aspect of U.S. regulations and was, therefore, safe, wholesome and properly handled. It is the same poultry that U.S. consumers purchase.

Seeking to resolve the issue, Russia agreed to receive a U.S. delegation, which included Dr. Weber, on short notice. During the talks, differences in legislative and regulatory frameworks for food safety were examined. Both sides reached an understanding of the need to begin drafting a new agreement (i.e., on the veterinary certificate) that would regulate U.S. poultry exports to Russia. As a result of the talks, on March 31, 2002, Russia agreed to lift the temporary ban before April 10, 2002, provided the U.S. complied with certain prescribed remedial actions.

On April 30, 2002, Russia sent a draft new veterinary certificate to the U.S. The veterinary certificate, to which U.S. producers must adhere, covers a wide range of controls designed to ensure a wholesome product. These controls apply to, among others, the areas of processing and packaging, labeling, transit countries, infectious diseases, antibiotic and hormone usage, drug and heavy metal residues, and preservation.

On May 14, 2002, Ann Veneman, Secretary of USDA, acting at the direction of President Bush, wrote to her counterpart Alexander Gordeyev, Deputy Prime Minister of Agriculture, urging that negotiations begin to allow agreement on a new veterinary certificate within 60 days. To this end, on May 22, 2002, Deputy Prime Minister Gordeyev advised Ms. Veneman that a Russian team would arrive in Washington, DC, in late May or early June.

The second round of negotiations ran from June 8 to June 13, 2002. Drs. Weber and Brynes participated in these talks during which they (1) presented an overview on the human food safety assessment of veterinary drug residues and (2) attempted to gain clarification on Russian safety concerns and to obtain more information as to which drugs are actually approved for use in poultry in Russia. Dr. William Price of CVM's Office of Surveillance and Compliance attended these talks as well and addressed the issue of genetically modified (GMO) feeds. Dr. Price and Dr. Thomas Moskal had also been involved prior to March in preparing responses to earlier written questions from Russia.

Generally, these negotiations, tense and at times combative, yielded no major breakthroughs. However, as the negotiations were drawing to a close, the CVMers proposed written revisions to those sections of the April 30, 2002, veterinary certificate dealing with the use of veterinary drugs in poultry.

Following the Washington talks, Russia invited an expert team to Moscow to continue the negotiations. Indicative of just how important the negotiations were deemed, the National Security Council (NSC) requested a meeting with the U.S. team prior to its departure for Moscow. NSC suggested negotiation strategy and urged the team to negotiate well on behalf of the U.S. Government and the U.S. poultry industry.

Dr. Brynes served on the 11-person team that visited Moscow from June 24 to July 3, 2002. The Moscow talks were intense, with both sides clearly committed to realizing an agreement. Although a great deal was achieved, it became clear that agreement on a new certificate would not be accomplished by July 3. On July 2, therefore, Dr. Brynes helped compose a letter to Sergey Dankvert, First Deputy Minister of Agriculture, that might mitigate the Russians' concerns regarding the United States' use of hormones and antibiotics and of residues.

On August 23, 2002, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick announced that the long-running poultry trade dispute between the United States and Russia had been resolved. Both sides agreed to a new veterinary certificate that would allow for the continuation of U.S. poultry exports to Russia. In their announcement they commended the extraordinary efforts of all members of the U.S. negotiating team and expressed appreciation for the support they received from members of Congress.

The agreement on a new veterinary certificate notwithstanding, there remained some problem areas between Russia and the U.S., especially concerning the use of tetracyclines in poultry. The Russian muscle tolerance for drugs of the tetracycline group is 10 parts per billion (ppb), at least two orders of magnitude less than that in the United States (2 parts per million). It was suggested that a way around the issue could be to determine conditions of use that would permit U.S. producers to comply with the Russian tolerance of 10 ppb.

At the end of August, USDA invited Drs. Weber and Brynes to join the Tetracycline Task Group which included USDA and poultry industry representatives. The goal of the group was to plan a research program that would allow exported poultry products (legs and deboned meat) to comply with the 10 ppb tetracycline tolerance. Drs. Weber and Brynes continue to provide guidance to USDA and the poultry industry on the research project, which appears to be moving forward smoothly.

Drs. Brynes and Weber are senior regulatory review scientists in CVM's Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation.