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Falling poultry consumption, bird flu threatens

Falling poultry consumption due to bird flu threatens industry profitability – UN

Poultry consumption is likely to fall this year in many countries in Europe, Middle East, and Africa that have been hit by bird flu due to unfounded fears of disease transmission, with declining poultry prices threatening industry profitability worldwide, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.

The agency stressed that poultry properly cooked at or above 70 degrees Celsius throughout the production line is safe to eat. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) also reiterated that humans are not at risk of acquiring H5N1 infection through food when poultry is safely handled and properly cooked.

“Globally, the evidence demonstrates that there is no risk of infection when birds and eggs are well-cooked, as this kills the virus,” WHO Director-General Lee Jong-Wook said in a statement, noting that poultry is an important source of protein.

Although the H5N1 virus is highly infectious among poultry, it is not easily transmissible to humans. Since December 2003, the virus is known to have infected 173 people, of whom 93 have died, mostly in South-East Asia and China. Not one of these cases has been linked to the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products.

But recent avian influenza outbreaks in Europe, Middle East, and Africa have already caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, trade bans and sharp price declines amid fears that the H5N1 avian influenza virus could evolve into a lethal human pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people.

“A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per caput poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006, currently estimated at 81.8 million tons, nearly 3 million tons lower than the previous 2006 estimate of 84.6 million tons,” FAO commodity specialist Nancy Morgan said.

In Europe, consumption declines range from a dramatic 70 per cent in Italy in mid-February to 20 per cent in France and 10 per cent in northern Europe. In Africa, consumers in affected countries, such as Egypt and Nigeria, are moving away from poultry and egg products as are consumers in surrounding non-affected countries.

In India reports of consumption drops of 25 per cent have caused prices to fall 12-13 per cent, implying lower production prospects. In the United States, export prices for broiler cuts dropped 13 per cent as a result of declining shipments to Eastern Europe and Central Asia in November and December.

In Brazil the price of day-old chicks, an early warning indicator of potential production changes, is down sharply. Brazil and the United States supply about 70 per cent of global poultry trade. Backyard producers in many developing countries are losing income and are facing increased livelihood and food security risks. In Nigeria, for example, some producers are losing their means of livelihood as birds are culled and prices drop and employees on farms are losing their jobs.

The crisis has also affected the $42 billion dollar feed sector in Europe, with demand losses estimated at up to 40 per cent in some countries.

FAO noted the importance of preventing products from infected flocks from entering the food chain. Some 200 million chickens have been culled or have died of the disease since the onset of the current crisis in late 2003.

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