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Dutch poultry sector still hurt by bird flu outbreak

by 5m Editor
15 January 2004, at 12:00am

AMSTERDAM - A quarter of all Dutch poultry were slaughtered last year to eradicate the highly infectious bird flu at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros, and part of the industry is unlikely to ever recover from the disaster, sector specialists said on Tuesday.

Dutch poultry sector still hurt by bird flu outbreak - AMSTERDAM - A quarter of all Dutch poultry were slaughtered last year to eradicate the highly infectious bird flu at a cost of hundreds of millions of euros, and part of the industry is unlikely to ever recover from the disaster, sector specialists said on Tuesday.

Just as concern is rising in Asia about an outbreak of bird flu, which can be deadly to humans in rare cases, the consequences of the Dutch outbreak are becoming clear.

The Netherlands, the European Union's largest poultry exporter, slaughtered 30.7 million birds at some 1,300 farms to contain an outbreak of avian influenza that was first discovered in March 2003 and led to one human death.

A total of 255 bird flu cases were found.

"The egg laying sector is practically back to the situation it was in before the outbreak of avian flu. In the (poultry) meat sector, this is not the case. The market shrank by some 15-20 percent as potential market outlets disappeared," said Henk Hulsbergen, a director at the Dutch poultry product board.

Bird flu was initially confined to the central Gelderland province, before spreading to the heartland of the Dutch poultry industry and jumping across the borders to Germany and Belgium where it raged on a lesser scale.

The Dutch crisis was declared over by the European Union in July and the three countries have resumed all poultry exports.

Total costs incurred by the government for killing the animals and payments to affected farmers amounted to 270 million euros ($344 million).

The European Union last week said it would pay 40 milion euros of those costs.

But overall costs for the sector, including poultry farmers, slaughterhouses and related businesses, amount to about 400-500 million euros, according to the Agricultural Economics Research Institute (LEI).

"What we are seeing now are the consequences of lost export markets," said Peter van Horne, a researcher at the LEI.

"Competition in the (poultry) meat sector is very tough and it will be hard to regain lost market share. The sector (in the Netherlands) will probably have to shrink because it cannot compete with countries such as Brazil and Thailand," he added.

Thailand is the world's fourth-largest chicken exporter

The disease, whose cause has still not been determined, caused one human fatality. In April last year a Dutch veterinarian who had been working on a farm infected with bird flu became ill with a strain (H7) of the disease and died of pneumonia.

The vet did not take medication against avian and human flu, but fears that the avain flu virus had mixed with human influenza to form a new disease turned out to be unfounded.

One likely cause of the outbreak in the Netherlands were wild waterfowl carrying a low pathogenic version of the disease that later mutated into a highly pathogenic strain, said Nienke van der Zee, a spokeswoman at the agriculture ministry.

The ministry will release a report on the outbreak of avian flu and how it was handled this March.

Source: Reuters - 13th January 2004

5m Editor