Thursday, March 23, 2006

Meat prices double as government bans chicken imports on bird flu fears

BAGHDAD, 23 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Red meat prices have doubled in Iraq as demand has increased, following a ban on imported chickens announced after the death of two Iraqis from the H5N1 avian virus.

This has left many Iraqis unable to afford meat in their daily diet.

But the government says the ban was essential to stop the spread of the virus.

“We were accepting imports from very few countries,” said Ra’ad Hamza, a senior trade ministry official. “But with the virus spreading to other continents, we can’t be too sure about our safety.”

According to Hamza, chickens were still being imported from Brazil and France up until Wednesday. But with recent reports of the flu in France and the rapid spread of the virus globally, imports from both countries have been halted, even though Brazil has not reported any cases. Iraq has been importing around 90 percent of its poultry needs since the bird flu outbreak.

Butchers countrywide have raised their prices for red meat. “We’re selling lamb for double the price since the problem began,” said Abdul Jabbar, a butcher in the capital, Baghdad. “For us, it’s very good business because there are no chickens.” The average price for a kilogram of lamb has jumped in recent weeks from the equivalent of US $4 to US $8.

But with most Iraqis reliant on monthly food rations, many people say they have little choice but to give up eating meat. “My family never went a day without eating meat,” said Abdul Sattar, a Baghdad resident and father of four. “But now we can’t afford it due to the huge price increases.”

Some 2.5 million chickens have been culled since the first human case of bird flu was reported on 19 January in the northern governorate of Sulaimaniyah. Since then, a 15-year old girl and her uncle have both died due to contact with infected fowl.

Although bird flu cannot be contracted from cooked chicken, poultry farmers in the north have been largely unable to sell their birds. “I was selling chicken,” said Ahmed Jabbar, a shopkeeper in the Mansour district of Baghdad. “Now I will have to close the doors and try to find another way to support my family.”

“We understand this decision might be tough, but we have to be careful – at least until we’re sure that the problem has been controlled,” said Hamza. “It’s just a preventive measure for Iraqis’ safety.”

Economists, meanwhile, say the temporary ban on importing chicken could cause an unexpected impact on the wider economy. “This decision was not well planned and could affect the Iraqi economy,” said Baghdad-based economist Mounir Salah. “Every day that Iraqis don’t buy chicken or meat can cause losses of thousands.

Bird flu story sources:

Posted by john T. on 03/23 at 09:13 AM
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