- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

Poultry retailers and processors say they are not worried that bird-flu fears will dampen holiday season sales even as avian influenza was reported in Canada yesterday.

Canadian officials said a strain of the illness, which is not as serious as the one in Asia, was found in wild birds in Quebec and Manitoba. Canada’s Food Inspection Agency said it will do more detailed testing this week.

Even as fears of a bird-flu outbreak spread, the U.S. turkey and chicken industries are not expecting a sales plunge.

“I think that consumers have come to understand what avian influenza issue is,” said Sherrie Rosenblatt, spokeswoman for the National Turkey Federation, a Washington trade group.

Press attention on the bird flu in Southeast Asia and parts of Europe, which has caused 30 deaths since December 2004, has not affected turkey manufacturers so far, Ms. Rosenblatt said.

ConAgra Foods Inc., an Omaha, Neb., food manufacturer that sells Butterball turkeys, received a “minimal” number of calls about bird flu on its consumer line in the past few weeks, said spokeswoman Tania Graves. She would not say how many calls were received.

The company has not seen a drop in sales because of bird flu, Miss Graves said.

Cargill Inc., a Minneapolis food company, also received a handful of consumer calls on bird flu but no drop in turkey sales, spokesman Mark Klein said. “We think consumers can continue to look forward to having turkey for Thanksgiving,” he said.

The U.S. Agriculture Department issued a similar statement last week during a press conference to highlight the different strains of avian influenza.

Milder versions of the bird flu, which have not infected humans, periodically appear in U.S. commercial and wild birds. But the United States has not reported the fatal strain found in Asia, the federal agency said.

The strain found in Canada yesterday is an H5 strain that poses no “new threat to human health,” the Canadian agency said. But the H5 strain does have the potential to mutate into a more virulent form.

Consumers are expected to eat 104.3 pounds of poultry products this year, up 2 percent from 102.4 pounds in 2004, according to the latest USDA data.

The U.S. chicken industry reported slower sales in recent weeks, but the National Chicken Council, a Washington trade group, said the upcoming holiday season is generally a “softer” sales period compared with its summer peak.

“We have no reason to believe that consumers are turning away from this product” because of a bird-flu panic, said spokesman Richard Lobb.

But Charles C. Allen III, president and chief executive officer of Seaford, Del., chicken company Allen Family Foods Inc., said he was not sure whether the company’s recent sales dip was from bird-flu fears or a traditional drop in consumption.

“Whether [the sales decline] is due to the traditional holiday time of the year or consumer reaction, we’re not sure,” Mr. Allen said, declining to give any sales data.



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