Poultry Partnership

This chicken farm is something to crow about--an example of Russian-American cooperation that works.

It's called Elinar-Broiler--and it's profits are way more than chicken feed.

Americans took over an existing chicken farm outside Moscow five years ago as a training project for Russian farmers, and turned it into a blue-ribbon business. Using mostly its own eggs, this joint venture now turns out 130 chickens per minute. Its output is sold to major Moscow supermarkets, as well as local fast-food chains.

Thirty-three U.S. poultry companies gave money to start this venture. They hope that if Russians get a taste for chicken, they can crack open this potentially lucrative market to more US poultry exports.

Russia is already the single largest importer of American chicken--gobbling up more a billion pounds of US poultry last year. But as Russians eat only about a quarter as much chicken on average as Americans - there's plenty of appetite for more.

"Despite the fact that the domestic poultry industry here is growing," says Ned Kuller, general director of Elinar-Broiler. "The demand and the potential for growth will far, in my judgment, far exceed the ability of the industry to keep up with it."

It's all a far cry from the early 1990s, when the administration of then-president George Bush Sr. sent frozen chicken legs to Russia as humanitarian aid. That chicken was dubbed "Bush legs" and often criticized by the Russians as being low quality.

"Bush legs were blamed several times in Russian media for containing antibiotics and hormones," says Albert Davleyev of the U.S.A. Poultry and Exports Council. "Our major challenge is to convince the Russian consumers that they have a very healthy and affordable option of buying more chickens."

But the chicken business here is as fragile as eggshells. Russia has stopped U.S. poultry imports several times during the past few years over safety fears.

While there's no poultry ban in effect now, the Russians have slowed US imports drastically this year due to outbreaks of bird flu in Delaware and Texas. And Russian companies like Elinar-Broiler hope to boost sales because of the slowdown. Elinar already has an advantage over chicken firms in the U.S. because it can deliver chilled meat instead of frozen, which tastes better, and sells for a higher price.

While the Russian and American governments work on the major trade issues, Elinar-Broiler keeps turning out birds and hatching plans to increase its output--trying to turn a profit without ruffling any feathers.