July 10, 2006


Brazil's chicken industry fears bird flu more than Newcastle disease



Sixteen chickens died this week of a highly contagious fowl disease known as Newcastle disease in a small town in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, but that doesn't worry the country's massive chicken export industry as much as another outbreak of bird flu in Europe.


On Friday (Jul 7), the Spanish government confirmed its first case of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu in a wild water fowl in the northern part of the country.


News reports of outbreaks of the disease often has people consuming less chicken in nations where bird flu has been reported, and that has had a direct impact on Brazil's chicken producers.


Brazil is the world's leading chicken exporter. The country has exported 27 percent of its chicken production in the first six months of the year, according to the Brazilian Chicken Producers and Exporters Association (ABEF).


Rio Grande do Sul accounts for 25 percent of Brazil's national export volume, which in 2005 hit 2.8 million tonnes worth US$3.5 billion.


When Newcastle disease, which does not pose a health risk to humans, was reported here Thursday on a private property not connected to the local chicken industry, trade groups barely blinked an eye. The last time Newcastle was reported in Brazil was in the centre-west state of Goias in 2001.


Rio Grande do Sul last had a Newcastle outbreak over 20 years ago, said Francisco Natal Signor, the Agriculture Ministry's representative in Rio Grande do Sul. Countries didn't ban Brazilian chicken as a result, Signor said.


"We don't want to treat the Newcastle case superficially, but Spain's bird flu news is a lot worse," said Ricardo Goncalves, president of ABEF.


Spain is not a major importer of Brazilian chicken. "What bird flu there does, however, is get consumers worried about the safety of chicken meat, and that could spread to other countries right at a time when we've hit bottom as far as export volume goes," Goncalves said.


Brazil's chicken market has suffered because of bird flu fears in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Chicken exports for June were 185,200 tonnes, down from 187,000 in May, 202,800 in April and 213,300 in March. In Jun 2005, Brazil exported 237,500 tonnes of whole, fresh chicken meat, according to the Foreign Trade Ministry.


"People are very conscious of animal diseases these days. When a property owner notices his chicken's having breathing problems, they call specialists to take tests," Signor said.


Not everyone is convinced that Brazil can easily dismiss concerns that Newcastle will bring more problems for the sector.


"If you're a country that likes to use trade restrictions as political tools instead of for health purposes, then you could ban, renegotiate lower prices, or what have you," said Jose Vicente Ferraz, director of agribusiness consulting firm Instituto FNP.


Goncalves said: "Sure a country could ban chicken meat from Rio Grande do Sul, but no one has done that so far, and bad news comes much faster than good news."


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