Vietnam resumes sales of virus-free poultry products

After months of plummeting sales, Vietnam’s poultry markets are springing back to life, selling chicken and eggs certified virus-free, as avian influenza outbreaks appear to be in check.

The first major market reopened last week in Ha Tay province, 15km south-west of Hanoi, offering chicken and eggs neatly packed in plastic bags and sporting veterinarians’ certificates.

“Each day we are selling 400 to 500 chickens, a big change from the mere 100 or so two weeks ago,” said Tran Thien Quan, head of the Phuong Hien store in Ha Tay, managed by Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand Group.

About 10 000 poultry had been culled by the company following a bird-flu outbreak a year ago, Quan said.

“Come and see our clean poultry and eggs”, proclaimed a long red banner atop a store where 20 young workers clad in red overalls, hats and plastic gloves lined five air-conditioned glass cages.

Others handed out free samples of roast chicken to some schoolchildren.

Chicken and eggs have disappeared from markets and restaurant menus across the country over the past few months, with many people shunning poultry products as a result of bird flu.

Vietnam has been the country hardest hit by the H5N1 strain of avian influenza. Since late 2003, as many as 93 people have contracted the virus and 42 of them have died.

The north of the country was particularly badly hit by the latest outbreaks that began in early October. So far, 25 of Vietnam’s 64 provinces, including 18 in the north, have been affected but 10 of them have reported no fresh outbreaks in three weeks.

More than 3,4-million poultry have been culled in Vietnam or have succumbed to the virus over the past two-and-a-half months, leaving farmers and vendors struggling to make ends meet.

Tran Cong Xuan, chairperson of the Vietnam Poultry Association, said earlier this week that the country’s farmers were losing more than 1,1-trillion dong (more than $71-million) a month because of falling sales.

“We are selling a 3kg chicken for just 50 000 dong [about $3], about a third of the price we got before these bird-flu outbreaks,” said Nguyen Thi Duyen, a vendor at the Ha Tay market.

“We also sell more than 6 000 eggs every day at present,” she said with a note of optimism in her voice.

“At first we had to plead with our customers, explaining to them and showing them the vets’ certificates stamped on each of our chickens,” she said.

The efforts seem to be working.

“I was a bit concerned at first, but I am more confident now because the bird-flu situation is getting better,” said Nguyen Quang Hong (52), a Hanoi school teacher.
“I bought chickens for my family and friends who haven’t had chickens for months.”

Last week, Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat was shown on national television eating a chicken dish.

“Take concrete action to help farmers sell their chickens and limit their losses,” he said in an appeal to the nation.

His exhortation came ahead of feverish preparations for the boom consumption period of Tet, or Lunar New Year festival, in late January, when the Year of the Rooster gives way to the Year of the Dog in the 12-yearly cycle.—AFP

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