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Japan suspends all U.S. poultry imports

Japan has banned chicken imports from the United States following the discovery of a strain of bird flu in Delaware.
/ Source: Reuters

Japan has banned chicken imports from the United States following the discovery of bird flu in Delaware, the latest concern in a country heavily dependent on imports for its food needs.

The agriculture ministry said Sunday it was trying to confirm the nature of the illness in Delaware, which led to the slaughter of 12,000 birds at a farm in the state on Saturday.

Japan has largely escaped the effects of the deadly avian flu virus that has wreaked havoc on Asia’s poultry industry and killed 18 people, but its food industry is starting to feel the effects of bans on imported chicken.

Singapore and Malaysia said they had also suspended imports of U.S. chicken, while Hong Kong stopped imports from Delaware. None of those places has reported a case of bird flu during the current outbreak.

South Korea, which has had cases, suspended U.S. imports on Saturday.

Japan had already banned chicken imports from Thailand and China, its top two suppliers, and the ban on chicken from the United States, the fourth-largest supplier, means that some 20 percent of Japan’s chicken consumption is now affected.

Japan’s bans, together with a separate one on U.S. beef following the discovery of the brain-wasting cattle disease BSE there last year, have shaken consumer confidence.

With personal consumption making up more than half of Japan’s economy, some analysts have said prolonged bans could push up meat prices and cut consumption, denting economic growth.

Agriculture Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei sought to reassure consumers on Sunday, playing down the danger of bird flu to humans and reiterating that Japan would not resume imports unless it was fully satisfied over safety issues.

“There have been no reports yet that humans can get infected from eating eggs and chicken meat,” Kamei said on local television. “I’d like consumers to understand that.

“We can’t agree to imports unless the meat has been properly heat treated,” he added. “We would consider restarting imports only when we have sent our own people to thoroughly check facilities in each country.”

Different strain of virus in Delaware
Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse said on Saturday the H7 strain of the influenza virus in the chickens was different from the strain that has caused human deaths in Asia.

“The virus that is in Asia is a mutation of H5,” Scuse said, adding that the H7 strain was fatal to poultry but did not transfer to humans.

A Japanese agriculture ministry official could not confirm the strain of the virus. The ministry said the ban on all U.S. imports would continue if the virus was the H5 type, but if it was H7, then Japan would only ban imports from Delaware.

Japan already bans chicken imports from Rhode Island and Connecticut because of previous outbreaks of H7-type bird flu.