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Bird flu spreads tension in poultry industry

By Chris Mercer , 01-Mar-2006

Tension escalated this week over bird flu, after France criticised other countries for banning its poultry and a new report warned of a "steady erosion" in global consumption and prices this year.

France's poultry industry association said there was no justification for banning French poultry imports, while trade minister Christine Lagarde said at a trade show this week that bans already imposed were an emotional response to the bird flu problem.

More than 20 countries, including Japan, Thailand and South Korea, have now banned imports of French poultry due to fears over bird flu. France confirmed it had found deadly bird flu strain H5N1 on a turkey farm last week.

 

Poultry consumption in France has fallen sharply, between 20 and 30 per cent, with noticeably more chicken left on supermarket shelves at the end of the day.

 

The moves are a worrying trend for the country, which is Europe's largest poultry producer and has an export market of around €983m per year, according to umbrella industry association APVF.

 

Yet, there is more turbulence to come this year for poultry industries all over the world, according to a new report from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

 

Sweden reported its first suspected case of the H5N1 bird flu strain on Tuesday this week. If confirmed, that means the disease spread to at least 18 new countries in February alone.

 

"A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per capita poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006," said Nancy Morgan, FAO commodity specialist.

 

She estimated global poultry consumption this year would be 81.8m tonnes, nearly three million down on earlier predictions.

 

So-called "consumption shocks" have already hit countries that have recorded bird flu outbreaks. The FAO said poultry consumption fell 70 per cent in Italy in mid-February. The average drop for northern Europe was 10 per cent.

 

There were also reports of a 25 per cent consumption fall in India, and that consumers in Africa, even those in non-affected countries, were cutting out poultry and eggs.

 

Consumer fears have already begun to push down prices, despite statements that poultry is safe to eat if handled and cooked properly; re-iterated in recent days by French authorities, the World Health Organisation and the FAO.

 

Prices for day-old chicks have fallen sharply in Brazil, which, together with the US, supplies 70 per cent of the global poultry trade, the FAO reports. It predicted poultry prices would continue to fall in 2006, and that the 10 per cent growth international poultry trade last year would be eroded.

 

Authorities in many affected countries have acted to save domestic flocks by imposing movement restrictions and forcing producers to keep birds inside.

 

French authorities began vaccinating around 900,000 free-range ducks and geese in the high-risk departments of Landes, Loire-Atlantique and Vendée this Monday, after winning a fiery debate to do so at the European Commission last week.

 

The European Commission proposed last December that fresh meat and meat products from the vaccinated poultry should be able to be marketed in the EU and dispatched to third countries, provided it comes from approved holdings. The flock from which the meat originates must have been inspected by a vet 48 hours prior to slaughter.