Russia is threatening to ban U.S. poultry imports in the latest round of sanctions over the country’s suspected involvement with Ukrainian rebels. The sanctions against Russia were put in place following the downing of a Malaysian jetliner last month by the rebels. Russia has since struck back by blocking various food items, including Australian beef, Latvian and Lithuanian pork, Moldovan fruit and Ukrainian juice, Reuters reports.

Sanderson Farms Inc. is among American agricultural companies preparing to respond if Russia carries out plans, reported in Russian media this week, to restrict imports of U.S. poultry.

Russia is "using foreign trade as a political football" by threatening to limit poultry imports, Sanderson's Chief Financial Officer Mike Cockrell said. The Mississippi-based company is lining up other buyers for its chicken in case Moscow imposes a ban.

"We'd be crazy not to be making calls to alternative markets right now," he said.

Last week, the farm sector's attention turned to poultry after Russia's Veterinary and Phyto-Sanitary Surveillance Service said it found signs of the antibiotic tracycline in four shipments of U.S. poultry. The service, known as VPSS or Rosselkhoznadzor in Russian, could not be reached for comment.

VPSS' threat to ban U.S. poultry imports, reported in government-controlled Russian media, came days after fresh U.S. and EU sanctions over Russia's support of rebels in Ukraine. U.S. poultry exporters and processors said that there were no problems with the meat. Russia has been accused repeatedly of using food safety concerns to ban products from countries with which it has strained relations or to protect its own industry. Banning products for political reasons is against World Trade Organization rules.

Source: Reuters via Baltimore Sun