By Lin Tan
DTN China Correspondent
BEIJING (DTN) -- Business is down about 80% in south China's live poultry markets after they were shuttered in wake of the latest H7N9 bird flu outbreak in humans, Chinese poultry industry leaders said.
First identified last March, H7N9 bird flu has killed 73 people and sickened 274 others. Its association with live poultry markets cost the industry $16 billion in 2013 and more than $3 billion in the first two months of 2014, according to a letter signed by 1,073 poultry producers in China.
Yet the flu strain is not widely found in live poultry flocks, and the industry is lobbying the government to drop the "bird" portion from the flu's name to help ease consumers' negative perception of the industry.
"We collected 1.6 million samples throughout the country of live chickens in ten provinces last year and found 88 samples positive for H7N9," said Zhongqiu Zhang, Director of Veterinary Bureau, Ministry of Agriculture. He believes that poultry products are safe.
The DNA of the H7N9 virus in poultry is different than what's been collected from human infections, a fact the industry said reinforces its position that there's no direct relation between poultry production and human infection.
Industry leaders also asked the government to stop reporting every human H7N9 infection because it has a noticeable effect on poultry sales. China's National Health and Family Planning Commission rejected the proposal and believe the public should be updated on the situation.
The government closes poultry markets and sanitizes them after human cases occur. The most recent closure in Zhongshan City in Guangdon Province lasted two weeks.
"Poultry stock has been decreased 30 percent in my region before the market close, and we will see more impact in the following months," said Weifeng Jiang, president of the third largest poultry company in Guangdong.
There are three segments of the poultry industry in China: white broiler chickens, yellow broiler chickens and layers. White broiler chickens go to centralized slaughterhouses while yellow broiler chickens go to live markets. Jiang's company is in the yellow broiler chicken market, which has strong roots in southern China culture.
Feed demand dropped as flocks declined. Feed demand declined 25% in the first two months of 2014 and soybean crush margins have become negative, local market players said. Large on-hand supplies of soybean meal contributed to reduced crushing forecasts, and stocks of whole soybeans at import facilities are expected to grow from 5.2 mmt in February to 5.6 mmt in March to 6.2 mmt in April.
"This is the season of bird flu in China, and I hope it can get better after April when the temperature gets higher," said Guifen Gong, Director of China Poultry Association.
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