New York Times Articles
From the New
March 21, 2006
Agency Proposes Ban on Flu Drugs for Poultry
WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) — The Food and Drug Administration
proposed Monday to ban the use of two types of human flu drugs in
poultry to preserve their effectiveness for people in case of a bird
The proposal would prohibit the use of a new class of antiviral drugs
called neuraminidase inhibitors, as well as an older class that has
been blamed for the rise of a drug-resistant strain of the avian flu
virus in China.
The newer drugs are Tamiflu, made by Roche, and Relenza, made by GlaxoSmithKline;
the older drugs are rimantadine and amantadine.
The drugs are not approved to treat or prevent influenza in animals,
but veterinarians can still legally prescribe them. Still, Richard
L. Lobb of the National Chicken Council, an industry trade group,
said American poultry producers did not use the drugs.
"No one does that," he said.
Officials worry that repeated use of the drugs could allow a deadly
flu strain to mutate and resist the treatments when they are needed
Concern is growing as the H5N1 flu strain spreads among birds in Europe,
Africa and Asia. Experts say it could change to a form that moves
easily between people, causing a worldwide pandemic.
Business Prepares for the Possibility of Avian Flu in the
By MELANIE WARNER
The deadly strain of avian flu has not been found anywhere in the
Western Hemisphere, but Mark Holden, a chicken grower for Tyson Foods
in Ellijay, Ga., is not taking any chances.
Every seven weeks a group of his chickens is tested before the birds
are sent to be slaughtered. All people who enter or leave the chicken
houses must walk through disinfecting baths. And visitors and workers
must wear plastic booties over their shoes.
"Even though we don't have any outbreak now, we want to take
all the precautions we can to protect our product," said Mr.
Holden, who has been in the chicken business for 10 years and lives
across the street from one of his chicken houses.
Poultry producers and restaurants doubt that their chickens will be
infected by avian flu or that people would catch the virus even if
there were contamination. But they are concerned that if the virus
gets to the United States, people will eat less chicken, simply out
of fear. And they are revving up big plans to be prepared.
In Senate testimony earlier this month, Michael Leavitt, secretary
of the Department of Health and Human Services, declared that it was
"just a matter of time" before birds infected with the virus
found their way to the United States.
The stakes are enormous. United States poultry producers like Tyson,
Pilgrim's Pride and Gold Kist sell 26 billion pounds of chicken each
year. Restaurant chains — chief among them McDonald's, KFC and
Wendy's — sell 45 percent of that.
Sales of chicken are growing. Over the last 10 years, consumption
of chicken has increased by 22 percent, while beef consumption has
remained flat, according to the Department of Agriculture.
If Europe and Asia are any indication, chicken sales could take quite
a hit. In February, after avian flu was discovered in wild swans,
poultry consumption declined 70 percent in Italy. In France, sales
are down 30 percent since avian flu hit a turkey farm last month.
In some areas of India, sales are down 40 percent since last month's
discovery of avian flu in chickens.
These declines came even though none of the 175 human cases of avian
flu confirmed by the World Health Organization since 2003 resulted
from eating poultry.
Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said
most of the cases of humans contracting avian flu have been from people
coming into direct contact with infected poultry, though one case
in Vietnam appears to have been a result of someone drinking infected
Public health officials consider it unlikely that people will catch
the virus from eating chicken. Chicken producers say that any sick
birds would immediately be destroyed and would not enter the market.
While the deadly strain of avian flu, called H5N1, now hitting Europe
and Asia can reside in poultry meat, the virus is killed by the temperatures
normally used to cook poultry.
Nonetheless, a Harvard School of Public Health nationwide telephone
survey of 1,043 adults in January found that 46 percent of respondents
who eat chicken said they would stop eating it if avian flu hit the
United States poultry industry.
In October, Yum Brands, which owns KFC, told investors that, based
on its experiences with avian flu in China, it estimated that in the
worst situation, chicken sales would drop 10 percent to 20 percent
if there were widespread concerns about avian flu.
Chicken processors and restaurant chains are already working feverishly
to minimize any sales declines. Companies are working on communications
strategies that can be set into motion at a moment's notice. These
plans deal with avian flu in birds and not the feared hypothetical
mutation of the virus into a human-to-human form. Future mutations
could make avian flu contagious among humans, and possibly generate
Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride, KFC, Chick-fil-A and Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits
all say they have formed internal avian flu task forces that meet
regularly and include top executives and leaders from different departments.
These executives have been meeting with government health officials,
discussing what information should go on the companies' Web sites
and when, and devising sales loss projections.
Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits, the country's No. 3 chicken chain behind
KFC and Chick-fil-A, said its task force met weekly, often in conjunction
with the Ledlie Group, an Atlanta-based crisis management agency.
KFC said that it had created TV and print ads aimed at convincing
people that eating fully cooked chicken was safe. The ad campaign,
which was produced by Creative Alliance, an agency in Louisville,
Ky., where Yum Brands is based, is ready to go if a crisis strikes.
"It's on the shelf collecting dust," said Jonathan Blum,
a Yum spokesman.
Tyson, the country's largest chicken producer, is working on an ad
campaign that will run if chicken sales decline, or if consumers start
to get nervous.
McDonald's, the country's largest restaurant buyer of chicken, said
it had been working on avian flu contingency plans, but declined to
At many chain restaurants, including McDonald's, chicken has helped
bolster sales more than any other menu item. In presentations to analysts
and investors, McDonald's has credited its new line of higher-priced
premium chicken sandwiches and its chicken-topped premium salads with
increasing sales at outlets in the United States that have been open
for more than a year.
Arby's, which is known for its roast beef sandwiches but gets 15 percent
of its sales from chicken products, said it was spending more money
than it had for any other new product to promote its new line of so-called
chicken naturals. Chicken naturals are all chicken, with no added
water or chemicals.
Some analysts think avian flu in birds, like mad cow disease in beef,
may turn out to be a nonissue for consumers. Since mad cow was first
discovered in the United States in late 2003, beef consumption has
remained constant, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"In the U.S. I think we generally have a greater trust in the
government to ensure food safety than they do in Europe and Asia,"
said John Glass, an analyst at CIBC World Markets. "I'd be surprised
if U.S. consumers really react to this."
But some in the chicken industry worry that avian flu will be much
more frightening to consumers than mad cow. "I get asked about
it all the time," said Steve Gold, vice president for marketing
at Murray's Chicken, a producer of humanely raised chicken. "I
think people have this idea that it's going to be like Alfred Hitchcock
with all these birds flying into their community and everyone getting
Mr. Gold notes that unlike mad cow, avian flu is highly contagious
among birds and has the potential to travel long distances in unpredictable
He and others in the chicken industry are busy honing a message that
the nation's chicken populations are well protected from wild, migratory
birds that may be the initial carriers of the disease.
A Web site set up by the National Chicken Council, the National Turkey
Federation and the Egg Safety Center (www.avianinfluenzainfo.com)
promotes the industry's modern system of enclosed, confined chicken
growing as an effective line of defense against the spread of avian
The 20,000 to 24,000 birds that reside in a single growing house on
the average industrial chicken farm lack access to the outdoors, or
even to sunlight — something that has long drawn criticism from
animal welfare activists and has helped fuel the growth in free-range
and humanely produced chicken. The virtue of isolating chickens, said
Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council, is that
no chicken is likely to come into contact with wild birds that may
"Things here are not like they are in Asia where chickens are
running around outdoors in people's backyards," Mr. Lobb said.
"It's much more controlled."
He added that while thousands of free-roaming and backyard chickens
were infected in Thailand in 2004, none of the country's large-scale,
commercial chicken flocks in enclosed facilities were hit.
Mr. Lobb said chickens sold as free-range or organic, meaning they
are allowed access to the outdoors, may be more susceptible to avian
flu transmission, but this group represents less than 1 percent of
the chicken production.
The Egg Safety Center said that consumers should not worry about eggs
being infected with the avian flu virus because sick hens either stop
laying eggs or lay poor-quality eggs that would not be acceptable
Some government officials said that if avian flu arrived on United
States shores, it would probably be from migratory birds.
Susan Haseltine, assistant director for biology at the United States
Geological Survey and an expert on bird migration, said government
scientists had their eyes on the bird pathways from Asia to Alaska.
"One species with high potential is the pintail," Ms. Haseltine
said. "It migrates from Alaska to the southern U.S., to the Gulf
Coast and Southern California. They have the ability to fly long distances."
The Department of Agriculture said that since 2000, 12,000 tests had
been done on birds in western Alaska and none had been found with
the deadly version of avian flu. Ms. Haseltine said there was little
bird passage across the Atlantic from Europe.
Other experts say that avian flu is more likely to reach the United
States through the illicit trade of poultry from infected countries.
Importing birds or poultry meat from countries that have had outbreaks
of avian flu is banned, but Rob Fergus, science coordinator for the
National Audubon Society, said there were probably instances of smuggled
products. "There are a lot of holes in biosecurity in our ports.
I'm much more concerned about poultry shipments than wild birds,"
There is, of course, still the small chance that North America may
be somehow spared from avian flu. But companies like Chick-fil-A are
not counting on that. "The question is not if, but when,"
said Don Perry, a spokesman for Chick-fil-A. "You can't put big
nets in the sky to prevent birds from flying here."