China lifts ban on U.S. poultry products: Impact on Virginia

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More than $1 billion worth of poultry and poultry products are expected to be exported to China in the coming year, following the dissolution of a U.S. poultry ban imposed since 2015.

China banned imports following a 2014 avian influenza outbreak. U.S. poultry has been free of the disease since August 2017.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said reopening China to U.S. poultry “will create new export opportunities for our poultry farmers and support thousands of workers employed by the U.S. poultry industry.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the U.S. is the world’s second-largest poultry exporter, with global sales of poultry products valued at $4.3 billion last year.

Virginia’s poultry industry has generated almost $13 billion overall in statewide economic activity, supporting 52,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Virginia Poultry Federation. There are more than 1,100 family-owned poultry farms in the commonwealth.

Jacki Easter of Amelia County, a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Poultry Advisory Committee, is one of those farmers. Her family raises broilers, and she expressed relief that China lifted the ban.

“My first reaction was, ‘Hallelujah,’” Easter said. “This is definitely good news. We need all the markets that we can have available, and China has been a huge market for U.S. poultry.”

The economic effects of a ban, and the lifting of one, are felt exponentially. In addition to raising broilers, the Easters produce feed grain that is largely fed to poultry.

“When you’re not moving those chickens, that means you’re not moving that grain,” she explained. “But with a greater demand for poultry comes more demand for feed grain for poultry.”

Easter pointed out that increased demand for those products means farmers will buy more equipment and hire more workers, further strengthening the economy as a whole.

Robert J. Mills Jr. of Pittsylvania County, who chairs the VFBF poultry committee, has a breeder operation that raises birds for Perdue Farms. While domestic poultry consumers prefer white meat, legs and wings, he noted, the international community provides a marketplace for byproducts unpopular at home, like chicken feet.

“When you lose some of that market share to tariffs or trade embargos, you end up getting a glut on non-marketable products in the U.S., which puts pressure on white meat to be more profitable,” Mills said. “For companies to remain profitable, every marketable part of that bird needs a home in a market.”

Mills said a surplus of poultry byproducts means U.S. consumers ultimately pay more for white meat cuts.

“Things are very complex now,” he said. “We’re in a global economy. It’s even more important today than ever before that we work with trade partners and open channels to have a steady flow of product being exported.”

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