Groups Say Eggs, Chicken Safe to Eat

PHILIPPINES - Two groups of poultry raisers on Wednesday crammed a restaurant that fried chicken built and feasted on its bestseller, along with "balut" (developing bird embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell), in a public demonstration intended to debunk fears that a bird flu outbreak in San Luis, Pampanga, had made poultry products unsafe for human consumption.
calendar icon 17 August 2017
clock icon 5 minute read

Such were the lengths that the United Broiler Raisers Association (Ubra) and the Philippine Egg Board Association went through in the bid to ease consumer apprehension over poultry products, five days after the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that an avian flu virus had hit two barangays (Filipino term for a village, district or ward) in San Luis.

“I’ve been eating eggs for the past four months now and nothing has happened and nothing will happen,” said Egg Board president Irwin Ambal, noting the outbreak—the first in the Philippines—started in April. “We’re eating eggs the right way. We cook them. They’re perfectly safe,” he said.

Ubra president Elias Jose Inciong said the outbreak was “isolated,” and the government and the industry had enforced strict measures so that infected poultry up for culling in Pampanga would remain quarantined and would never reach the market.

Mr Inciong said the government had not yet even confirmed if the bird flu strain that hit San Luis was dangerous to humans. Ubra and the Egg Board cited precedents of human-transmittable strains in other countries infecting first people who process the poultry.

“But here, no person has gotten sick or has died,” Mr Inciong said.

Negative for virus

Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said on Wednesday that two farmworkers in San Luis who had manifested flu-like symptoms had tested negative for the avian virus.

Maj. Gen. Angelito de Leon, 7th Infantry Division commander, also announced on Wednesday that the Northern Luzon Command would initially deploy 100 soldiers to help in the culling of infected birds that the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) began on Saturday.

Around 82,000 chickens, ducks and quails remained to be culled.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said he would request an additional P100 million from President Duterte to handle the avian flu outbreak in San Luis.

Financial assistance

The appeal comes after 30 farms outside the 7-kilometer radius controlled by the DA volunteered to have their birds culled, increasing the number from 200,000 to 600,000 birds to be destroyed.

An estimated P50 million will be used to compensate the raisers for the culled birds, while the rest of the financial assistance will be used for livelihood alternatives and other forms of aid such as grants and loans.

“They found it hard to go on with their business, because even though they’re outside the radius, they weren’t able to sell their products. We welcome this development and we support their decision,” the secretary said.

Mr Piñol clarified that these farms were not affected by avian flu.

The bird flu scare, Inciong said, has led to unprecedented and sudden losses for poultry raisers. Aside from continued drops in prices of poultry products, “what hurts us is the decrease in the volume of sales,” which he estimated, based on anecdotal data, to be around 75 per cent.

Poultry ban

The Egg Board lamented that local governments in Luzon had reportedly stopped the entry of poultry products into their areas “even without scientific basis.” Mr Ambal said egg producers were sustaining the biggest damage in the wasted transport costs. Eggs are highly perishable, he said.

“We’d like to appeal to [local governments] outside controlled areas that while we should be very vigilant in monitoring avian species in our jurisdiction for any signs of diseases, let us also exercise prudence in passing local legislation for intervention. Let’s not restrict the entry of products based on wrong information,” Mr Ambal said.

“There are a lot of government experts. Let’s ask them. Let’s not rely on gossip on social media,” Mr Ambal said.

The Egg Board also appealed to the government to speed up the culling of infected fowl, noting that farm employees had started to get influenced by the scare, leaving the poultry unfed and therefore more susceptible to diseases.

Mr Ambal likewise appealed to the government to “approximate just compensation” for the raisers “in danger of losing their livelihood,” noting that the capital per egg-laying hen was three or four times larger than the planned compensation of P80 per chicken.

“The compensation package has never been discussed or given importance,” Mr Ambal said. He urged the government to help the raisers quickly “bounce back” from the crisis.

Mr Ambal, however, lauded the government for its swift and decisive action on the bird flu outbreak, even if it was the first time this has happened in the Philippines.

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