WASHINGTON – Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently received “deep thanks” from the National Chicken Council for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s commitment to purchase $14 million of dark-meat chicken (see related story by clicking here). Vilsack cited a prolonged trade dispute with Russia, which created a glut of dark meat stocks in the U.S., as the impetus for the program.

“U.S.D.A.’s purchase is a timely action that will relieve the industry of excess product while providing high-quality food to needy people here at home – a true win-win,” said George Watts, N.C.C. president. “We are delighted to be able to provide this product to the government for distribution to food banks and other outlets.”

Companies in the U.S. chicken industry, under normal circumstances, sell more than 700,000 metric tons of chicken legs to Russia every year – about 1.5 billion lbs. Russia closed its market to chicken imports from the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2010, ostensibly because Russian officials objected to the fact that American chicken processing plants use chlorinated water in processing chickens, N.C.C. says.

For several months negotiations to resolve the issue have dragged on while product has been placed in cold storage due to the relatively limited domestic market for dark meat. Although American consumers prefer white meat, they also eat plenty of dark meat, but they cannot consume all that is produced, considering that the chicken is nearly half dark meat by weight. The product to be sold to the government is the same as normally sold in the domestic market.