Poultry processor association takes action on avian flu

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Avian influenza, Bird, Influenza

With the US public starting to be aware of the impact avian
influenza could have, poultry processors have started taking action
now to ward of a potential drop in demand.

The US poultry industry association this week said that the "Asian flu" form of avian influenza does not exist in the US and that poultry companies and the government are taking the necessaryprecautions to keep it out and to help limit the possibility of human illness.

"This is a health issue, not a food safety issue,"​ stated Michael Rybolt, the National Chicken Council's manager of scientific and regulatory affairs. "There is no danger ofacquiring avian influenza from normally and properly cooked food. Avian influenza is caused by a virus. Like all types of viruses, it is destroyed by the heat of normal cooking."

The H5N1 form of highly pathogenic avian influenza has killed millions of head of poultry in Asia or caused them to be destroyed. About 116 human beings in southeast Asia have also contracted theillness from direct contact with diseased animals.

The detection of bird flu in turkeys in Greece, the fear level has mounted rapidly. Statements by US president George Bush preparing the public and the government for the possibility the diseasecould spread to humans and ignite a deadly global outbreak have in turn led to more people being aware of the possiblity.

Statements by the Trust for America's Health predicting a moderate to severe outbreak in the US could kill 500,000 Americans and sicken two million, have not helped.

The National Chicken Council points out that several blocks against H5N1 exist to prevent its arrival in the US.

For one, the US has never imported poultry products from Southeast Asia. Since the Asian flu crisis erupted two year ago, the US. government has also prohibited the importation of live birds orother potential carriers of avian influenza.

Scientists have been routinely checking migratory birds in Alaska and along the West Coast to look for signs that wild birds might carry the virus to the US.

Primary poultry producers have also been keeping people off farms who have been to an area where the "Asian flu" is present.

"Conditions in the United States poultry industry are also radically different from those in Asia, where millions of chickens, ducks, and other poultry live in close conjunction with swine andother livestock and with human beings," the association stated.

By contrast, the vast majority of chickens and turkeys in the US are raised in sheltered conditions where they have no contact with other animals and very little contact with humans.

The US has not had a major outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza since 1983-84, when about four million broilers and 11 million laying hens died or were destroyed in an outbreak centered onPennsylvania.

The strain was H5N2 and there were no human health implications.

"We have never had this particular form of avian influenza in the United States,"​ said Steve Pretanik, director of science and technology for the association.

The National Chicken Council represents integrated chicken producer-processors, the companies that produce, process and market chickens. Member companies of NCC account for approximately 95 percent of the chicken sold in the US.

In the past month the Bush administration has held a bird flu conference with representatives of 81 nations. He has also raised the possibility of using the military to enforce quarantines andtravel restrictions in the event of an outbreak.

US chicken production was worth about $20 billion last year.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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