Miyazaki bird-flu outbreak over

H5N1 infection cleared after 190,000-chicken slaughter

Kyodo

Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru declared an end Thursday to the outbreak of virulent bird flu that hit the prefecture 50 days ago.

“We were able to mark this day through the aid and cooperation of many people,” Higashikokubaru said at a press conference. At midnight Wednesday, the prefecture lifted all restrictions on moving or shipping chickens and eggs.

The governor vowed to “work to revitalize the poultry industry of Miyazaki Prefecture, which boasts Japan’s No. 1 production of broilers in terms of value.”

The highly virulent H5N1 type of avian influenza virus first hit a poultry farm in the town of Kiyotake on Jan. 10, then broke out on two other farms, in the city of Hyuga and the town of Shintomi.

The shipment restrictions affected 3.5 million chickens kept in and near the three areas, and about 190,000 chickens were slaughtered, according to the prefecture.

Through its inspections, the prefecture has found no spread of the infectious disease to birds on other farms or households, leading it to lift the only remaining restrictions on moving or shipping chickens and eggs from an area within a 10-km radius from the farm in Shintomi as of midnight Wednesday.

A similar ban was lifted at the same time in Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture, where the restriction was put into effect Jan. 29 after an outbreak of virulent bird flu at a farm.

In the Okayama case, the prefectural government slaughtered 12,200 birds at the farm and banned shipments of some 950,000 chickens and eggs in a 10-km radius from the site.

Although the latest bird-flu outbreak is over, at least on the prefectural level, businesses counting on Miyazaki chickens have been hit hard, and their recovery could take several months.

In Shintomi, more than 1 million eggs a day could not be shipped due to health reasons. Some chicken farmers had to store the eggs, although they knew their freshness would be significantly degraded.

One chicken farmer in Shintomi said that in the end, such eggs only sold for a quarter of the price compared with normal eggs.

The effect on the Miyazaki chicken industry is feared to be long term. According to the Japan Association of Chicken Farmers, once farmers lose customers, it’s hard to win them back.

In Ibaraki Prefecture, for example, where an avian flu outbreak hit in 2005, local chicken farmers were able to reclaim only 60 percent of their customers prior to the outbreak.

At this point, neither the association nor local governments have a mechanism to financially help out farmers hit by bird flu, said Hideyuki Shimada of the association.