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Weekly Overview: Counting the Cost – of Poultry to the Environment and Avian Flu to the Industry

16 May 2013

ANALYSIS – A University of Delaware study has found poultry manure to be less environment-polluting than previous thought. A new report, however, highlights the contribution of livestock to greenhouse gas emissions, while researchers have identified changes in manure management and nutrition that could greatly mitigate the impact from poultry. China is beginning to count the cost of the H7N9 flu outbreaks to its poultry industry.

A new study in the US has found that poultry production brings a lower environmental burden than thought.

Federal environmental programmes have drastically overestimated poultry industry contributions to water pollution, according to a University of Delaware-led study that could trigger changes to river and bay clean-up plans across Delmarva and around the country.

James L. Glancey, a professor in the university’s Bioresources Engineering and Mechanical Engineering departments, said that a multi-state study, based on thousands of manure tests, found that actual nitrogen levels in poultry house manure are 55 per cent lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s decades-old, lab-based standards.

This work could significantly impact the future of poultry farming in the Chesapeake Bay area, where a forecasting model has been used to guide a federally backed attempt to restore the bay’s health and ecosystems and assign clean-up goals.

Growth in agricultural production has resulted in increased agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - with a huge proportion of emissions coming from livestock production, according to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute.

In Japan, researchers comparing the figures for the output of GHG for pig and poultry production in France and Japan found that changing the manure handling process and increasing the use of synthetic amino acids in feeds could be beneficial in reducing GHG output.

Avian influenza can be very costly for the poultry industry, as the Chinese are finding to their cost. Official figures released this week by the China Animal Agriculture Association estimated that since the H7N9 influenza outbreak the poultry industry has recorded losses of more than 40 billion yuan (US$6.5 billion).

The central government announced this week subsidies of 600 million yuan ($96.77 million) to support the poultry producers across the country as live bird markets were closed to control the disease and poultry meat demand slumped. Processing companies will receive short-term subsidised loans and local financial institutions are being encouraged to offer credit aid to breeders and companies.

The China Development Bank, the country's policy lender has said it has issued emergency loans worth 116 million yuan (US$18.7 million) to help poultry firms cope with the impact of avian flu.

Chinese economists are predicting fewer cases of H7N9 flu in May and a dramatic improvement in market fortunes by mid-summer.

On human cases of influenza A(H7N9), the latest report from China gives the tally as 130 confirmed cases and 35 deaths from the virus.

Global players are also seeing bird flu affect their bottom lines. McDonald's Corporation, for example, reported comparable sales in April 2.9 per cent below the same month last year in Asia/Pacific, Middle East and Africa, which the company attributed to the impact of bird flu, especially in China.

Bird flu outbreaks have also been reported this week in Nepal (in a backyard flock; virus subtype unknown), in North Korea (H5N1 highly pathogenic virus in domestic ducks) and Tibet (H5N1 in a mixed flock of village poultry).

Jackie Linden

Jackie Linden

Top image via Shutterstock

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