Greek poultry firms fear the worst from spreading bird flu

Greece’s poultry industry, employing tens of thousands of people is only months away from collapse after a massive drop in sales due to bird flu, the poultry business federation’s chief said yesterday. «Give it another two or three months and we can then talk about a complete disaster, the end of our sector,» federation chief Spyros Nonikas told Reuters. «We are on the brink of collapse and no half measure is going to save us now.» Greece, among the first European countries to detect the deadly H5N1 bird flu in wild fowl last month, has so far confirmed 32 cases in swans and geese. It has yet to detect any cases in domestic farm poultry. «It does not matter that none has been found there. People have stopped buying chicken, people have stopped eating chicken in restaurants,» Nonikas said angrily. The H5N1 strain of bird flu has spread with alarming speed in recent weeks across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. The more it spreads, the greater the fears of the virus mutating into a form that could easily pass from one person to another, triggering a pandemic in which millions could die. Bird flu is hard to catch but people can contract it after coming into contact with infected birds. So far, the World Health Organization says 98 people have died from bird flu around the world. Nonikas said that following an initial 80 percent drop in sales late last year when a suspected case was detected, sales for the past three months were down around 70 percent. That would be enough to cost some 6,000 jobs by this summer if nothing changes. «We say by June or July a total of 6,000 employees will have to be laid off because businesses will not be able to meet their financial obligations any more,» he said. No recovery in sight Another 7,000 jobs indirectly linked to poultry producers, including in restaurants and supermarkets, could be lost, he added. «The only way out of this is if the Prime Minister declares a state of emergency in our sector and the government takes over all payments for debts, wages and other obligations,» Nonikas said. «Just like it does in a natural disaster.» The federation has estimated in the past five months the sector has lost about 150 million euros ($182.6 million) and an additional 25 million more are lost each month. «We have some tens of thousands of tons of frozen chicken in stock and close to 1.5 million eggs which we will have to dispose of at some point,» Nonikas said. Asked whether he saw the potential of a recovery any time soon, Nonikas said that this was as good as impossible. «I do not see any recovery soon. It will take years until people start eating chicken as they did before the outbreak of bird flu,» he said. (Reuters)