China poultry losses top $1.6B due to bird flu scare

Thousands of birds have been killed by Chinese authorities in an attempt to fight the spread of bird flu to humans.

BEIJING — China's poultry sector has recorded losses of more than $1.6 billion since reports emerged of a new strain of bird flu two weeks ago, an official at the country's National Poultry Industry Association said Tuesday.

Authorities have slaughtered thousands of birds and closed live poultry markets in Shanghai and Beijing in an attempt to reduce the rate of human infection and allay growing fears about the H7N9 virus.

However, new cases are being reported daily. In total, 14 people have now died from the bird flu virus, and 63 have been infected, the official Xinhua news agency said Monday.

Most of the cases to date have been in eastern China, where poultry consumption is down by more than half, according to Liu Yonghao, president the New Hope Group, the country's largest producer of animal feed.

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Prices have dropped on weaker demand. High-quality chicken is selling for 75 percent less, Liang Zhong, the poultry association official, told the China Daily newspaper.

However, National Bureau of Statistics data released Monday showed that average whole chicken prices nationwide were down only 1.5 percent in the first 10 days of April, compared with the preceding 10-day period.

China is the world's second-largest poultry market after the United States, and poultry is the country's fastest-growing meat sector. But a spate of food safety scandals in recent months has hurt consumer confidence in the industry.

"Chicken prices are falling, which will lead to losses for breeders," New Hope's Liu said. "There are more than 100 million farmers raising chickens who will need to be supported."

The recent decline in demand is also having a negative impact on imported poultry.

"We thought that people would try to avoid domestic chicken and have more preference for imported chicken, but this is not the case. Across the board, people are being more cautious," said Sarah Li, director of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council's Hong Kong office.

"According to our importers, (wholesale) sales for both imported and domestic chicken products have declined by 80 percent."

Additional reporting by Niu Shuping and Michael Martina.

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