H7N9 virus

China's poultry industry wants to hush up bird flu news in damage control bid

Poultry associations send open letters asking government to temper coverage of the outbreak amid billion-yuan losses

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 February, 2014, 1:36pm

China’s poultry industry leaders have asked health authorities to share less information about an outbreak of bird flu, as sales have suffered from an ever increasing death toll.

In open letters, the national association of poultry farmers and their provincial counterparts in Guangxi and Guangdong have as asked local authorities to “stop reporting individual cases of H7N9”, referring to the deadly bird flu strain, according to a report in the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Authorities should “avoid excessively detailed reports” on infections to prevent further damage to the industry, the report said.

Another statement on the website of the National Animal Husbandry Association claimed that identifying the virus as a bird flu strain has brought “disaster” to the industry, leading to losses of more than 100 billion yuan (HK$127 billion).

The letter, signed by 1,012 poultry industry executives, said some industry players were facing heavy losses and even bankruptcy due to the disease’s stigma and misinformation by the media over its spread via the birds. Losses so far this year have already amounted to 20 billion yuan, it said.

Guangdong authorities have stopped sharing unsolicited reports on infections with the press over the last days, Xinhua said on Wednesday.

However, a name change for H7N9 – which industry associations want to be called simply as “flu” – has yet to occur. The World Health Organisation and the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention continue to refer to the disease as avian flu.

“The source of infection is assumed to be direct or indirect contact with infected poultry or contaminated environments,” the WHO warns in a disease briefing on its website.

“There is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission,” it said.

The spread of the virus has gained rapid pace this year. By Tuesday, 115 human infections, including 25 deaths, have been confirmed, whereas for the entire year of last year saw only 144 reported infections, of which 46 were fatal, according to official figures.

In Hong Kong, reports have led to the culling of at least 20,000 chickens last week, less than a month after the SAR’s Department of Health banned the sale of live chickens. Mainland provinces have followed suit.

Egg prices have plummeted 6.4 per cent in the mainland on average by mid-January compared to a year earlier, according to the China Livestock Information Network. Chicken meat prices have fallen 3.3 per cent.

In 2012, the poultry industry employed 70 million people and accounted for one-fourth of China’s agricultural sector, generating some 689 billion yuan, the industry association said.