Bird flu brings headaches

VAN, Turkey – When a Muslim cleric warned people at prayers last week not to eat chickens or eggs because of bird flu, he gave Resat Baytar a major headache – sales of his eggs dried up completely. Baytar, the biggest egg-producer in Turkey’s eastern Van province, now believes the fate of the poultry sector rests with agriculture officials meeting in the capital Ankara today to discuss financial support measures. «If the steps are insufficient producers will halt output, shut up shop and lay off workers,» he said. Sipping tea in his office, he looks out at the shop floor of his main retail outlet, which has stood empty since the outbreak surfaced two weeks ago. Three children have died from avian influenza and 15 more have been infected across Turkey but authorities have called for calm. Food stores and restaurants have seen a plunge in demand. «Our sales of white meat have plunged 80 percent in the last couple of days. People are avoiding chicken. They choose other dishes instead. It’s not a big problem for us, but it looks like it could continue for a while,» said Saffet Tasci, working at a kebab and chicken stall in a shopping mall in Ankara. United Nations agencies have reassured consumers that properly cooked poultry is safe to eat. But they tell people from affected areas not to eat eggs raw or with a runny yolk. While sales have halted, Baytar’s 200,000 chickens continue to lay 150,000 eggs per day, forcing him to rent additional storage space. With annual production of 50 million eggs, his stock will only be heading for the rubbish bin unless action is taken soon. Media reports suggest the government may pay up to 5 lira (2.50 euros) for each chicken culled by major poultry producers and if they do, Baytar says he plans to cull 70,000 chickens. Other measures to stave off a crisis may include delaying debt repayments, providing cheap feed and long-term credit. The poultry sector is growing in significance for Turkey’s economy, with annual turnover at some 2.5 billion euros. Annual poultry meat output was 1 million tons in 2004. Exports totaled only 30,000 tons or 16.6 million euros. The biggest material loss so far has been felt by the huge number of Turkish villagers who keep chickens at home. Officials have culled hundreds of thousands of birds to halt the spread of bird flu. Newspapers say the authorities are offering 5 lira per chicken, 15 lira per goose and duck and 20 lira per turkey. While large producers insist their facilities maintain high hygiene standards, officials from the prime minister down are calling for an end to household chicken coops because of health risks. This may play into the hands of the major players. «In the long term this may be of benefit to us and it will also have advantages for the state as it will increase their tax income because production will be left to major firms,» said Resat’s brother Ekrem.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.