China’s bird flu outbreak is “devastating” poultry sales, an industry group said yesterday, as the H7N9 virus that has killed seven people triggered a new food safety scare.
Since China announced over a week ago that H7N9 avian influenza had been found in humans for the first time, the number of people infected has risen to 24, almost half in Shanghai.
Chinese authorities say they do not know how the virus is spreading, though it is believed the infection is passing from birds to humans.
The WHO has said there is no evidence H7N9 is passing from person to person — a development that has the potential to trigger a pandemic.
Authorities have advised the public to avoid live birds, but offered reassurances that poultry and eggs that are still on sale are safe to eat if cooked properly.
However, state media said that poultry sales have plunged in some areas of China, even regions that have so far recorded no human infections.
“It’s really a devastating blow to the market for broilers,” said Qiu Baoqin, vice secretary general of China’s National Poultry Industry Association.
Broilers are young chickens sold ready for cooking.
In the northern city of Shijiazhuang, daily chicken sales have tumbled more than 50 percent from a week earlier at the city’s largest agricultural market, the state-backed China News Service reported.
Shanghai has culled more than 111,000 birds, banned trading in live poultry and shut markets in a bid to curb the outbreak.
Nanjing and Suzhou followed suit by banning live poultry trading, while Hangzhou culled poultry after discovering infected quail.
Domestic airlines, including budget carrier Spring and Xiamen Airlines, have yanked chicken from the menu after complaints from passengers, the Shanghai Daily newspaper said.
China has been hit by a series of food scandals in recent years, some caused by producers deliberately using sub-standard or illegal ingredients, making the public wary over what they consume.
A decade ago, China also faced accusations it covered up the outbreak of SARS, which killed about 800 people globally, but the WHO has praised Beijing’s transparency for H7N9.
“The authorities seem to have learned the necessary lessons from the SARS outbreak,” the China Daily newspaper said in an editorial yesterday.
Analysts said the bird flu outbreak could hurt China’s overall economy, though the effect was expected to be temporary.
“Past experiences told us that the negative impact from such epidemics won’t last too long and ensuing pent-up demand could be quite strong, so there is no need for panic,” Lu Ting (陸挺), China economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a report.
Meanwhile, badminton-crazy Indonesia is concerned that the Chinese bird flu outbreak could claim an unlikely victim — the shuttlecock — officials said yesterday after the government banned imports of Chinese duck feathers.