Sunday, April 14, 2013

China's Poultry Industry Rocked by H7N9

China's poultry industry is experiencing severe economic impacts from the effects of the H7N9 influenza outbreak.

The spread of the H7N9 virus is still not clearly understood, but it seems to be associated with the sale and butchering of poultry. In response to the H7N9 threat, Shanghai and surrounding provinces are closing live poultry markets and shutting down unlicensed sale of live poultry in the municipality. On April 6, Hangzhou authorities shut down a facility where H7N9 was detected and disposed of all the chickens. On April 8, Nanjing municipal authorities also stopped trade of live poultry and all markets will be cleaned up and disinfected. Some provincial authorities are restricting the interprovincial trade of poultry.

The Southern Daily estimates that 80 percent of poultry markets in Guangzhou are "dormant." It estimates that daily losses in the provincial industry are 500 million yuan ($80 million).

Chinese news media say the closure of markets and consumer worries about catching H7N9 from poultry are having severe impacts on farms, slaughter, traders and wholesalers of poultry.  A Xinhua article quotes a Mr. Li, a farm "boss" who says he's losing money on all the chickens, ducks, geese, and pigs he raises on his farm. Mr. Li says his broiler chickens now get a price of 4 yuan per 500g, down from the usual price of 6-to-7 yuan. According to Mr. Li, he has trouble finding anyone to buy his chickens at all--no one wants them. He says he loses 2-to-3 yuan per 500g on chickens and 150-to-200 yuan on every pig he raises. Prices of ducks and geese have also been hit by the crisis.

Farmers were already being squeezed by rising costs of feed. Mr. Li says a 40-kg bag of feed costs 140-160 yuan ($22-to-$25), up from 90-to-100 yuan in 2009. Raising chickens no one wants is just a waste of feed, says Mr. Li.

Chicken traders and wholesalers are in a similar predicament as the effects of H7N9 reverberate through the industry. A trader named Deng said he is afraid to buy any chickens since he can't find anyone who wants them. He has closed up his stall but still has to pay several hundred yuan in rent daily.

Another chicken trader in Hunan Province drove a truckload of chickens to Guangzhou but the wholesaler he usually deals with refused to take them. He tried several others but found no takers, and finally drove the chickens back to Hunan. He thinks he lost 40-to-50,000 yuan on the trip, including gas, costs of feeding the chickens and death losses.

Even Wen's Group, a poultry giant based in Guangdong Province, is reportedly losing 20 million yuan per day. Securities analysts report that poultry-related company equities have been falling to their limit and warn investors to steer clear of poultry stocks.

Some local governments are giving aid to the poultry industry. Shanghai agricultural authorities announced a set of measures to aid slaughterhouses, and they arranged for them to sign agreements to buy chickens from farmers at fixed prices. Hangzhou is giving aid to chicken farms and ordered markets to cut daily stall rents for poultry vendors. The Hangzhou commerce bureau is studying additional policies. Nanjing has started giving out a subsidy to chicken farms and additional policies are being considered.

The Southern Daily article leads off with a plaintive cry, "Save our poultry industry!" It calls for the government to support the industry by calming the panic over eating poultry. It cites the emergency measures issued by the agriculture bureau in Foshan, Guangdong Province, which urged government departments, institutes, and schools to "take the lead in poultry consumption to help companies weather the storm."

The Southern Daily says the government needs to issue special subsidies, support and tax breaks to revive the poultry industry. It says losses threaten bankruptcy for several big companies in the province that have led the development of the poultry industry. Southern Daily warns that, if losses continue, farmers might loosen up on disease control measures, worsening the epidemic.

An agricultural securities analyst in Shandong Province warned that it's not easy to rebuild consumer confidence in the poultry industry. He warns that we may have just seen the beginning of disease problems, and it's hard to predict how serious the problems could become.

A set of recommended biosecurity measures for farms posted on a poultry industry site include:

  1. Purchase only legal vaccines; be aware that there are many sub-types of avian influenza and vaccines do not protect against all of them. Monitor antibodies and adjust vaccination based on the disease situation in the surrounding area.
  2. Disinfect production areas and chicken housing. All entrances should have disinfecting pools, a disinfection room and equipment. Dead poultry should be tested and disposed of properly.
  3. Keep facilities clean to prevent breeding of bacteria. Keep feed and drinking water clean. Dry and ferment manure; treat waste water. Clear out weeds around housing at regular intervals to prevent vermin from spreading disease.
  4. Prevent outsiders from entering production areas. Regularly exterminate rats and flies. Prevent wild birds from building nests. Install nets to keep out migratory birds. 
  5. Farm personnel should wear face masks, protective clothing, and gloves. All should be disinfected and cleaned to prevent cross-contamination.
Implementation of these measures on Chinese farms is spotty at best. They are a reminder of the many vulnerabilities to the spread of disease on farms in China. If safe food and drinking water are a problem for humans in China, imagine how bad these problems are for animals. 

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