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UAE poultry sales hit by bird flu scare

THE UAE'S poultry industry has been hit by a sharp drop in sales due to fears over the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, but has reassured consumers over the safety of local produce.

THE UAE'S poultry industry has been hit by a sharp drop in sales due to fears over the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, but has reassured consumers over the safety of local produce.

Emirates Poultry Producers Association (EPPA) technical secretary, Dr. Hussein Hassanin, told Arabian Business that the poultry market had shrunk 20% in recent weeks, but said that concerns over UAE-made products were unfounded.

“Chickens produced in the UAE are completely safe,” he said. “We have the most modern equipment for production and are farms are distributed very well outside [populated] areas so there is no contact between poultry and human beings. There is also no contact at all between chickens and wild birds.”

Dr. Hassanin said daily checks are being made of poultry farms by scientists from the Emirate's Ministry of Agriculture and industry experts, but admitted that concerns over the virus' spread elsewhere had affected consumer confidence. After seeing revenues dip by between 5% and 10% in the previous two months, poultry farms reported a 20% drop in sales in the second half of October.

“Our measures are more than enough for people to consume our products safely and without any fear," Dr. Hassanin said. “But we have been affected because the panic happened in the media. Poultry producers are the first line of defence and they aren’t worried because we know the true situation. But people outside that circle don’t have the information. People only listen to the television and not everybody reads all the details,” he added.

The last few weeks have seen governments in the Gulf stepping up measures to prevent the spread of bird flu, which originated in the Far East but has now reached Turkey and parts of Europe. The Abu Dhabi authorities recently ordered the closure of all shops selling live poultry, and other emirates are believed to be considering a similar move.

Last month, the UAE also placed a temporary ban on the import of poultry from all Asian countries and Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt — although there have been no reported cases of the deadly strain of bird flu in any part of the Arab world.

Poultry producers, however, have expressed concerns that such bans could affect international trade. “This is more than is necessary,” said Dr. Hassanin. “It will affect trade and trust between countries. It is fine to ban birds from any country having positive results, but stopping birds from other countries to keep everybody feeling more safe will hurt production and the market. If a country takes action without any scientific justification this will encourage each country to make the same action and trade will be affected all over the world.”

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) also warned last week that import bans on countries that had no reported cases of the virus were at odds with international standards and the FAO's own advice.

“Trade restrictions to safeguard human and animal health should be imposed only in proportion to the risk involved and ... should be removed promptly when no longer needed,” it said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi agriculture minister Ali Al Bahadli told Reuters last week that the country had not found any cases of deadly bird flu, although a government offical in the northern region of Iraq reported that two cases of a milder strain of the virus had been found. “Iraq is free of bird flu,” Bahadli said.

More than 60 people in Asian countries have so far died from the deadly strain of the virus. Scientists have said it is steadily mutating and predict that a strain may emerge that can be easily transmitted between humans.

Migrating birds can carry the virus and are believed to be the main cause of its spread across Asia and into Europe, although this remains unproven.

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