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French Version

Poultry sector in eastern Turkey hit hard by bird flu

With no expectation of short-term improvement in plunging poultry sales, businessmen in this impoverished eastern Turkish city predict dire times, unimpressed by government measures to help the sector hit hard by a deadly bird flu outbreak. "The government's plan is no more than daily alms given to a beggar.

They will help us hold on for only another week or so," said Resit Baydar, the head of Baytar poultry farm, in his spacious shop in downtown Van stacked full of eggs and poultry meat with no customers coming through the door.

With 65 employees, his company sells eggs obtained from the 200,000 chickens on its farm, distributing it to neighboring provinces, as well as poultry meat supplied by some of the country's biggest producers.

A barbecue party the company organized earlier this week where staff gobbled poultry meat and produce to demonstrate that it was safe has attracted press attention, but done little for sales.

"Our trucks leave the premises loaded with eggs and come back loaded with eggs. We hardly have the money to feed the chicken," Baytar said.

Poultry consumption plummeted by 70 percent to its lowest levels yet in Turkey after the bird flu outbreak, which began in December and has so far claimed four lives, the first fatalities from the virus outside Southeast Asia and China.

Throwing a lifeline at the ailing sector, the government announced a plan estimated to cost at least 53.2 million lira ($40 million, 33 million euros), allowing companies to postpone their electricity bills, taxes, state bank loans for up to a year.

Okan Bakkalbasi, who employs six people on his egg-producing farm with 20,000 chicken, says the measures would only buy time, stressing that the only solution would be to launch a campaign to quell public panic over eating poultry meat and produce from industrial facilities.

"Even if the government gives us long-term low-interest loans, it won't mean much since we won't be able to pay them off as long as there is no consumption," he said.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ministers have issued several calls for the public not to shy away from poultry and eggs from regulated safe facilities, but Bakkalbasi said that several state bodies in the region had cancelled orders for his produce.

"Why should people want our products when the state does not want them?" he asked.

Both Bakkalbasi and Baytar said they can hold for another week or so before they will be forced to make redundancies and cull animals to downsize their operations.

Zahir Kandasoglu, the head of the Van Chamber of Industry and Commerce, estimated the total loss suffered by egg producers, poultry meat retailers and locals whose animals were culled to stem the spread of the virus at some 10 million liras (about $7.5 million).

"Some 1,050 tons of poultry meat are waiting in refrigerated storehouses for lack of sales," he said.

"Among all the regions of Turkey, bird flu has dealt the biggest blow to Van" which comes in just 75th out of the country's 81 provinces in terms of development, he added.

Hesitant to eat poultry, Van residents have rushed for red meat and fish.

"My sales are up 50 percent. If the bird flu crisis continues, they will go up even more. We are planning to bring in more fish," fishmonger Akif Saglam said in front of his stall.

Orhan Gunes, a butcher in the center of the city, saw both a bright and dark side to the recent boom in meat sales.

"Well, yes, bird flu has helped my sales. I would put the increase at about 3O percent," he said.

"But because of the rush, my stock runs out quickly and I have difficulty in getting more," he added.

Beirut,01 23 2006
The Daily Star
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