Poultry farms facing ruin

Greece’s poultry industry, which produces 1.5 billion eggs a year and keeps some 15,000 people in employment, is in danger of collapsing due to plummeting sales which have been caused by bird flu fears, market experts told Kathimerini yesterday. Greece has so far reported 19 confirmed cases of deadly avian flu in wild swans and is waiting for the results of tests from an EU laboratory in England on another seven birds. No bird flu has been detected in chickens in Greece, which are being kept under close watch and stringent protection. This has not prevented widespread fears of the disease being transferred from poultry to consumers. Poultry sales are estimated to have dropped by as much as 80 percent in recent weeks. This drop is much higher than in most other European countries. In France, where bird flu has been found at a poultry farm, sales are about 30 percent lower. «Losses are incalculable and we are already in a position where keeping all jobs intact is impossible,» the Association of Greek Poultry Industries said yesterday in a statement. Europe’s poultry sector has a turnover of around 20 billion euros a year. The 25 member states of the European Union produce 11 million tons of poultry meat a year. Greece slaughters 130 million chickens annually. This keeps around 50 large and mid-sized firms, as well as countless small producers, in business. But dipping sales have forced firms to freeze up to 50,000 tons of chicken meat already. The government has offered poultry farmers assistance in the form of state-guaranteed loans totaling 12 million euros. The five-year loans will depend on the turnover of each company and will have a one-year grace period. Producers are concerned that this aid will only go a small way toward helping their businesses during this crisis period. The head of the Greek Union of Poultry Breeders, Apostolos Ziogas, told Kathimerini that the only hope is for consumers to be informed that eating chicken and turkey does not put them at risk of contracting bird flu. He said producers had planned another day of giving away free roast chicken in Halkida on March 12. A similar event took place in Thessaloniki on Wednesday.