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Egypt poultry industry in supply crunch after flu

by 5m Editor
10 May 2006, at 12:00am

EGYPT - After five human deaths and 20 million culled birds, Egyptians are returning to chicken as their main source of animal protein, creating a supply crunch as slaughter houses struggle to meet the resurgent demand.

Egypt poultry industry in supply crunch after flu - EGYPT - After five human deaths and 20 million culled birds, Egyptians are returning to chicken as their main source of animal protein, creating a supply crunch as slaughter houses struggle to meet the resurgent demand.

Egyptians turned away from poultry when the deadly bird flu virus hit the country in February, but the panic which drove thousands of people to jam phone lines with reports of the disease has since subsided, industry experts said. "Demand is increasing (but) nothing is available because the industry was hit very badly and we don't have enough slaughter house and freezing capacity," said Talib Ali, regional animal health consultant at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation. Poultry once accounted for about half of all animal protein consumed in Egypt, the world's most populous Arab state, compared to about 26 percent globally, some analysts said.

Red meat costs about 40 Egyptian pounds ($7) a kilogram, fish and white cheese are half that, but chicken still lags behind at between 12 and 15 pounds, making it popular in a country where GDP per capita is about $4,400 a year. But there are few signs the industry, with an asset value of 18 billion pounds, will recoup its losses soon. Some experts expect losses of between 3 to 5.5 billion pounds this year.

Some 20 million chickens have been culled since mid-February, but it has been hard work controlling the disease because many Egyptians breed poultry to supplement their income. "Every poultry company has lost at least 10 to 12 million pounds ... It'll take between a year and a year and a half for things to return to normal," said Hamdi Mahmoud, production manager at Mansourah Poultry .

PEOPLE HAD ENOUGH

The government has encouraged people to switch to frozen chicken as an option safer than unregulated domestic rearing. But slaughter houses providing chilled and frozen chicken can only supply a fraction of the 3 million chickens Egyptians used to consume on average each day.

"I see the people have had enough, because red meat is becoming more and more expensive and they have to have their share of animal protein," Talib Ali said. "So the price of poultry is going up again, it's up to 15 pounds a kilogram, while two months ago it was three pounds and nobody was buying it," he told Reuters.

Egypt has reported a total of 13 human cases of the H5N1. Five, all of them women, have died. "For there to be stability and a return to normal rates of supply, it will take at least a year and a half," said Mohamed el-Shafei, Vice Chairman of the Egyptian Poultry Association.

Shafei told Reuters Egypt had lost about 75 percent of its egg industry and 40 percent of chickens used for breeding. "Prices have gone up because the production has completely declined, supply declined. Chicks used to go for between 2 to 2.25 pounds. At the beginning of the crisis, nobody even wanted them for 25 piasters," said Saber Abdelaziz, director of poultry diseases and epidemics department at the Agriculture Ministry.

Essentially an animal disease, the bird flu virus can infect people who come into close contact with infected birds. It has infected 206 people since late 2003, and killed at least 114, the World Health Organisation said. Scientists say they are worried the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.

"The panic has now subsided a bit and we encourage them to eat poultry because if they don't eat it, there will be a stagnation in production," Ali said. But with compensation for culled birds low and in some cases non-existent, domestic rearing is likely to continue, increasing the risk that the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus will persist.

ThePoultrySite News Desk

5m Editor