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Bird Flu Flies Back

The new strain of bird flu, H7N9, was reported to have crossed into humans in China in March this year. Reports then told us that it had reached Taiwan and recent information has told us of an outbreak on three Italian farms. Earlier in August the first case of human to human contagion was identified when a father passed the infection to his daughter who was caring for him.

At its peak in 2006, the H5N1 bird flu was reported in 60 countries, with the highest number of cases in Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Turkey. In the past bird flu has mainly infected humans who have had close unprotected contact with live infected poultry. There has been no cases of people catching the virus from eating poultry meat.

From past experience that may not stop some consumers reducing their consumption. The main concern for businesses using poultry meat or eggs as an ingredient in their products may be a potential impact on supply. Italy, though working to isolate the outbreak, is still a major European producer of carcasses, meat and eggs. Perhaps now is the time for poultry users to review the security of their supply chain. More than one supplier? More than one country of supply?

This raises a number of questions. If you need to appoint a new supplier in a hurry how quickly can you complete your supplier risk assessments? Will your present risk management system get the job done in time for you to confirm the new supplier?

It also gives politicians some food for thought when they consider the proposals from some parties that labelling of products containing meat should declare the countries of origin. Imagine having to switch country of source quickly. Then four weeks later the virus has spread and you have to find another source in another country! That could be a lot of waste packaging as the outbreak spreads across the world.

On the other hand if your SAQ’s include pertinent questions regarding on-farm security and livestock health and they are up-to-date your risks will surely be much reduced.

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