Mexico Warns of Import Ban on U.S. Poultry

Times Staff Writer

Mexico has threatened a ban on all U.S. poultry products on concerns that the current outbreak of exotic Newcastle disease, a deadly avian virus that is harmless to humans, could spread to commercial poultry operations outside California.

A ban would shut off the third-largest export market for U.S. poultry producers. Mexico bought 123,000 tons, or $63 million, of leg quarters in the first 10 months of last year, according to the National Chicken Council.

Mexico, which already has a prohibition on California poultry, may expand the ban as early as Friday unless the United States can persuade Mexican agriculture officials that it is taking enough precautions to contain the disease.

"We hope that they can avert this," said Toby Moore, spokesman for the U.S. Poultry and Egg Export Council. "It would be troublesome" for the industry, he said.

Officials at the Agriculture Department said they have animal-health officials in Mexico City working to persuade the Mexican government that such a ban is unnecessary.

"We don't feel there is any compelling reason for them to ban our products from the entire U.S.," USDA spokeswoman Alisa Harrison said.

However, the disease appears to have moved beyond the Southern California quarantine area.

It was detected in a backyard poultry flock in Las Vegas, a spokesman for the Nevada Agriculture Department said Thursday.

Nevada imposed an immediate quarantine in Clark County, which includes Las Vegas, and neighboring Nye County.

U.S. agriculture officials said Thursday that they consider the risk of the disease spreading to commercial facilities beyond California as "negligible."

Mexico is the only major U.S. poultry buyer mulling over a ban on all such U.S. imports. Two other big buyers, Russia and Canada, have limited their bans to California.

Newcastle disease was first spotted in Southern California last fall and has since caused government officials to order the destruction of more than 1.5 million chickens in Southern California, primarily hens used in egg production. It has not been found in the state's commercial poultry meat operations.

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