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Bird Flu Warnings Demand Attention

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 8, 2006

Avian influenza seems on everyone’s list as the next disaster to be prepared for. The International Dairy Deli Bakery Association offers help. The Produce Marketing Association just offered a Webinar and has a follow-up one scheduled. The National Chicken Council also offers a separate web site chock full with information.

The good news: The National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association have issued a joint announcement that the ABC made-for-television movie “Bird Flu” is complete fiction.

But the risk of Avian influenza is not. Outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are having an effect on both trade and consumption. Tyson just came out with its earnings, which were actually a loss, and for a third time Tyson cut its fiscal year outlook. Scott Kilman of The Wall Street Journal reported:

Foreign demand for U.S. chicken plunged earlier this year as the deadly Asian H5N1 strain of bird flu appeared in European flocks. Its appearance prompted many consumers there to temporarily cut chicken from their diet, though health authorities say eating chicken poses little risk to consumers, particularly in regions where the poultry industry is highly industrialized. Prices of U.S. chicken breasts fell to their lowest level in decades.

But the state of the poultry industry may be the least of our problems. Infection has been confirmed in humans. Ted Koppel scared the pants off attendees at both the National Restaurant Association and Food Marketing Institute conventions and thought the facts played out differently for each group:

To the restaurant operators he reported: "If avian flu breaks out in this country, I don’t think you’ll be keeping your restaurants open. You’ll be staying at home."

To retailers, after pointing out the most effective survival strategy was to stay home: "We’ve got big freezers. We’ve got laptops. You’re in the food business, so this could be very good for you. How many of you have a month or two supply of food stockpiled at home?"

He meant it tongue-in-cheek, but he pointed out that 5% of the population of the world died in the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Preparation is a good idea. A very good idea.

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