UK suppliers and retailers tense over bird flu find

By Anita Awbi

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Poultry Influenza Fao

Following last week's spread of avian flu to Britain, supermarket
sourcing policy has come under fire from anxious government
ministers and poultry organisations desperate to placate concerned

Tensions are running high after a dead wild mute swan, found at Cellardyke harbour in eastern Scotland last Thursday, tested positive to the H5N1 virus. The UK is now the 13th EU country with the disease.

An ITN news poll of 2000 viewers last Friday found that 49 per cent may consider cutting poultry from their diets as the situation goes forward, with 23 per cent saying they will stop eating eggs and chicken.

Retailers, suppliers and government officials are starting to feel edgy. They expect the true impact of avian flu to hit the UK poultry industry over the coming days and weeks.

It was reported in the Scottish national press that Waitrose, with 174 supermarkets in England and two upcoming Scottish stores, stated it did not source any poultry or eggs from Scotland.

The comment was seized upon by Scottish Executive minister Ross Finnie, who criticised the firm for its "irresponsible" and "outrageous" reaction to the crisis.

Representatives from the National Farmers Union and Scottish Egg Producer Retailer's Association have come out in support of the environment minister's comments, condemning Waitrose for its handling of the situation.

But the supermarket, part of the John Lewis Partnership, refuted the claim that it had acted out of hand. A spokesperson told "We are actively sourcing Scottish eggs and poultry for our new stores opening in Edinburgh this summer. We simply responded to a journalist who asked us about sourcing policy - but explained to that same journalist that we do not consider bird flu to be a food-borne disease."

The big four supermarkets - including Tesco and Asda - said poultry sales were largely unaffected immediately after the H5N1-infected swan was found. But speculators have implied that the full impact of a drop in sales will not become apparent until later this week.

Since the spread of the recent avian flu bug to Europe, consumption of poultry and eggs has fallen dramatically in some member states, leading to a sharp reduction in prices

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported in February that recent avian influenza outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, increased trade bans and sharp price declines. The UN agency expects poultry consumption shocks this year in many countries.

"A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per caput poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006, currently estimated at 81.8 million tonnes, nearly three million tonnes lower than the previous 2006 estimate of 84.6 million tonnes,"​ stated FAO commodity specialist Nancy Morgan.

According to the FAO report consumption shocks are ranging from a dramatic 70 per cent decline in Italy in mid-February to 20 per cent in France and 10 per cent in northern Europe.

It remains to be seen how the British market will react, but news that nine from a possible 14 dead Scottish birds found were free from the H5N1 virus should bump up the short-term outlook for an anxious industry.

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