Most Europeans are eating poultry with traditional gusto despite reports from China of new bird flu outbreaks and the first official Chinese human fatalities.
After a month of being demonized, poultry is back in fashion in Europe
Chinese officials announced on Wednesday that a woman in eastern Anhui province had died from the H5N1 avian flu strain, a month after the suspected bird flu-related death of a 12-year-old girl in the south of the country. The confirmed death makes China the fifth country to report human deaths from H5N1.
Fears of a bird flu pandemic in Europe, however, seem to have subsided if the demand for poultry is anything to go by. While the virus has dropped from the main news agenda, poultry consumption and sales have returned to pre-scare levels in most countries.
Germany, Britain and the Netherlands have all recorded domestic sales in the vicinity of normal levels this week after pandemic predictions last month severely dented business. Sales of poultry fell sharply when it was announced that the H5N1 strain had arrived in Europe in October with cases confirmed in Romania and Croatia.
Germa n co n sumers stay loyal to poultry
Germans believe poultry to be safe.
In Germany and Britain specifically, poultry sales are now normal.
"Sales are stable with the normal seasonal swings," said German poultry industry association ZDG spokesman Thomas Janning in a statement carried by Reuters. "German consumers have reacted differently than in other European countries and have stayed loyal to poultry as they realize it is completely safe."
British consumers are also returning to the poultry section of supermarkets as the scare subsides in the UK.
"I think hopefully it is something that is dying down and sales are getting back to normal," said Charles Bourns, chairman of the poultry board at Britain's National Farmers Union.
"We are very much back on track," said Nick Agarwal, spokesman for UK supermarket chain ASDA, a unit of Wal-Mart Stores.
British supermarkets Tesco and Sainsbury also reported poultry sales were at normal levels. "We are not seeing a significant impact on sales or changes in customer buying habits," a Tesco spokeswoman told Reuters.
While the Germans, British and Dutch markets are recovering, those in France, Italy and Hungary remain below pre-scare levels although some recovery has been noted.
Fra n ce records slight recovery after dip i n sales
France is Europe's largest poultry market.
France's poultry industry is the largest in Europe with an annual turnover of 6 billion euros ($7.20 billion). Over the past month, sales in the French retail trade were 25 percent down in the week ended October 22 but have begun to recover in the last two weeks.
"Sales in the week ending Nov. 5 were 15 percent down on last year which is clearly an improvement," said Veronique Legoff, spokeswoman for the French retail federation FCD.
Coldiretti, the Italian farmers' federation, said at the weekend that poultry sales were still below normal levels but slight increases in the weekly price of poultry after months of decline may be an indication that demand may be starting to recover. Sales of poultry meat in Italy have slumped by up to 60 percent and Coldiretti estimated that the costs of the bird flu scare for the industry stood at around 400 million euros.
Some retur n to tradi n g n ormality i n Hu n gary
The outbreak in Romania has damaged Hungary's poultry exports.
Meanwhile in Hungary, sales were down around 10 to 15 percent compared to levels before bird flu arrived in nearby Romania.
While some European countries have yet to resume poultry trading with Hungary due to the close proximity to the Romanian outbreak, sales to Switzerland and Britain are slowly resuming, according to a statement from Istvan Erdelyi, spokesperson for Hungary's Poultry Product Council.