Fear "psychosis" hits Italy, poultry consumption plummets

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bird flu, Avian influenza, Influenza, Influenza pandemic

The fear "psychosis" caused by avian flu is devastating Italy's
poultry sector, with consumption falling by 70 per cent in the
country, the Confederazione Italiana Agricoltori reported
yesterday.

The steady creep of avian influenza toward the heart of the EU is feeding into consumers' fears about their health and the safety of the bloc's poultry flocks. Earlier this year, four children died in Turkey, the first ever confirmed deaths of humans due to bird flu outside of Asia. The deaths and the encroachment into the EU's borders makes for a dismal prognosis for poultry processors who face both a narrowing of their supply sources and a fall in consumption demand. Hungary yesterday became the sixth EU member state to report finding the deadly form of bird flu in wild birds, following confirmation from Germany, Italy, Austria, Greece and Slovenia. Bird flu has also been found outside the EU in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan.and Turkey. The Italian farmers' association report yesterday reported that the industry is losing €6m a day, and has lost a total of about €650m so far. The Italian poultry market annually produces 13bn eggs, 430m chickens, 40m hens, 36m turkeys and 100m other species for a total of 1,200,000 tonnes of meat. The agricultural sector had a turnover of €4.2bn, the association reported. Meanwhile the UK's Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) yesterday reported that in France, chicken consumption has fallen by about 20 per cent since the beginning of 2006. Producers had annual sales of €5.2m. The figures were revealed in a survey of consumers attitudes in the UK. The survey found that 40 per cent of consumers in the UK were "worried or rather worried" about their health due to the risk of avian flu spreading. In France and Spain the figure is 50 per cent, while 30 per cent of Germans feel the same way about the disease. The survey found that the spread of the disease had not seemed to affect British attitudes toward buying chicken. About 80 per cent of those surveyed reported no change in their purchasing habits. About 12 to 13 per cent reported they bought less, while about eight per cent reported buying more. Younger shoppers are more likely than any other age demographic group to have changed their purchasing behaviour, the survey found. The IGD also reported that 17 per cent of shopper who eat out bought less British poultry compared to nine per cent of those who cook from scratch. Lessons learned from previous outbreaks of BSE and food and mouth diseases in livestock indicate that the industry needs to ensure they provide a credible source of information about avian influenze, the IGD said. "Generally UK shoppers remain releatively unconcerned about Asian bird flu," the IGD stated. Other countries consumption falls are also indicative of the fear affecting the industry. Poultry sales in Turkey have dropped by 70 per cent since bird flu was reported in humans earlier in January, according to a report in Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper. Kemal Akman, head of the union of poultry producers, is quoted as saying the industry would suffer losses amounting to €30 million per month. In Spain, the bird flu scare resulted in a short-lived reduction in poultry meat consumption during late October and early November. By the third week of November poultry consumption had rebounded to top that of the previous year by 13 per cent, the Spanish government said. Yesterday France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Sweden all took steps to try to prevent the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain, which can be transmitted to humans. The countries ordered that domestic fowl be kept in screened, ventilated buildings to prevent contact with wild birds potentially carrying the disease. The UK and the Netherlands have made similar precautions. Today the Commission announced two new measures designed to limit the disease had received favourable opinions from member states. A Commission proposal to approve member states' individual surveillance plans for avian influenza, and to provide up to 50 per cent co-funding for the programmes was endorsed by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health earlier today. EU countries with bird flu have taken the agreed-upon measures to limit the spread of the disease. All five EU countries have put interim protection measures in place, including the establishment of a three kilometer protection zone around the area where the dead birds were found and a surrounding surveillance zone of 10 km. In the protection zone, poultry must be kept indoors, movement of poultry is banned except directly to the slaughterhouse, and the dispatch of meat outside the zone is forbidden except under very limited conditions. In both the protection and surveillance zone, on-farm biosecurity measures must be strengthened, hunting of wild birds is banned and disease awareness of poultry owners and their families must be carried out. The Standing Committee on the Food and Chain and Animal Health is ending a two-day meeting today reviewing the situation within the EU. Early warning measures are in place in all member states to ensure quick detection of the disease, both in domestic and wild birds. Contingency plans call for the rapid control and eradication of avian influenza should it occur in poultry farms. Slovenia has also imposed controls after authorities a dead swan also tested positive near the country's border with Austria. Azerbaijan said on Friday it had also discovered the H5N1 strain in wild birds on the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan has borders with Turkey, Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia. Now H5N1 avian influenza is in Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa, along with its original starting point in east Asia. The disease has led to the culling of millions of poultry. Since the latest outbreak began in December 2003, avian flu has killed more than 90 people in four Southeast Asian countries and killed or led to culling of an estimated 200 million birds across the region and in Turkey and Russia. Indonesia vaccinated 114 million poultry against avian flu with traditionally made vaccine in 2004. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that the virus could become entrenched in the Black Sea, Caucasus and Near East regions through trade and movement of people and animals and it could be further spread by migratory birds particularly coming from Africa in the spring. "Fighting the avian influenza virus in animals is the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce the likelihood of H5N1 mutating or reassorting to cause a human flu pandemic," the FAO stated. "Containing bird flu in domestic animals - mostly chickens and ducks - will significantly reduce the risk to humans. Avian influenza should not only be considered as a human health issue, but as a human and animal health issue."

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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