Chicken Exports: Watana Threatens Retaliation

As more humans are infected by the avian flu in Asia, Thailand's chicken exports are not faring well. Many countries, including Japan, are rejecting Thai chicken exports until they are assured that the avian flu is no longer a problem. Larger-scale commercial farms and some Thai officials are promoting the use of modern, covered chicken houses to contain the spread of the virus. But the concern from some quarters is that requiring such 'improvements' might be beyond the budgets of many small farmers and ultimately put them out of business. "The government is regulating small chicken raisers in such a way that it benefits big conglomerates," said one Bangkok senator and agricultural economist. No matter where one stands, however, the avian flu problem needs to be dealt with urgently. - YaleGlobal

Chicken Exports: Watana Threatens Retaliation

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

The government will today send letters and food-safety certificates to 10 trading partners in a bid to convince them to reopen their markets to Thai chicken speedily, Commerce Minister Watana Muangsook said.

He also warned that Thailand would retaliate against any trading partner that deliberately banned Thai chicken even though the products were deemed to be safe.

The government wants chicken exports resumed after major buyers, particularly Japan, banned all Thai chicken products in the wake of the bird-flu epidemic.

Chicken exports valued at about Bt50 billion have been hit, as well as related products such as feed-meal.

"Thailand has tried to do everything to ensure that Thai chicken is safe," Watana said. "If the importing countries do not reopen their markets, Thailand will raise some retaliatory measures on their products.

"Thailand will soon have to ask our counterparts to steam [sterilise] Toyota cars and perfumes before they are shipped to Thailand."

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak yesterday said Thailand expected to eliminate bird flu from poultry farms "within this week".

He said Thai processed chicken was safe to eat because it was boiled at a high temperature under World Health Organisation regulations.

The European Union has so far continued to import boiled chicken meat, but Japan - the country's biggest market - has banned all Thai chicken products.

Japan has rejected a total of 50,000 tonnes of Thai frozen chicken, shipments that were sent without any random checks as they were exported before bird flu was confirmed in the Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Chakramon Phasukvanich, secretary-general of the National Economic and Social Development Board, said in a programme aired on Channel 11 on Tuesday that Thai chicken farmers would have to shift to using a covered farming system to protect their birds.

"The covered system will require expensive investment and it would not be worthwhile for small farms. For small farms, we may have to establish an insurance system to aid farmers in time of crisis," he said.

The government now appears to be moving towards supporting the covered system as recommended by the leading poultry producer, Charoen Pokphand.

On Tuesday, Sarasin Viraphol, executive vice president of the CP Group, said the country should modernise chicken farming by shifting to covered farms to counter future bird-flu outbreaks.

He said such a move would minimise contact between livestock and migratory birds. The latter are suspected of being carriers of avian flu.

"A covered farm can be built in three months at a manageable cost", said Sarasin. Government Spokesman Jakrapob Penkair said breeders wanting to build covered farms could seek long-term low-interest loans from the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives.

"Chicken farms that are not standardised are vulnerable to the disease," he warned. However, other critics disagree because the measure would hurt small farmers.

Senator Kraisak Choonhavan said such a measure was unlikely to be implemented as it would badly affect the farmers' way of life.

Another Bangkok senator, Chirmsak Pinthong - who is also an agricultural economist- said the policy would make small chicken farms extinct and allow CP to force out its competitors.

"The government is regulating small chicken raisers in such a way that it benefits big conglomerates," he said.

The covered system is capital-intensive and small farmers cannot afford it, he said. Chirmsak added that there was no guarantee the covered farms would always work. "The spread of disease in the so-called 'ICU chicken farm' could be faster than in open ones," he said.

He also said the government had contradicted itself as it claimed to support small and medium-sized enterprises while having a policy that favoured big business, he said.

Somkid, who is chairman of the ad-hoc committee on the bird-flu crisis, told The Nation that he "did not care whether or not CP benefits from such a policy".

All stakeholders and agencies must work together to tackle the crisis, he said. The Livestock Department is studying how the policy can be implemented, he added.

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