Chicken prices feared to soar over AI outbreak

Eric Yoon, Dec. 22, 2016, 9:29 a.m.

SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) -- Chicken prices in South Korea are likely to jump next month due to a possible undersupply following the deadliest outbreak of avian influenza (AI), industry sources said Thursday.

South Korea has destroyed more than 20 million chickens and ducks at nearly 400 farms across the nation since the first case of bird flu was reported in mid-November at a chicken farm on the southwest coast.

According to the Korea Broiler Council, nearly half of some 1,500 broiler farms nationwide are unable to bring in newly hatched chicks as the government has banned the movement of poultry in bird flu-hit areas, despite a slim possibility of broilers catching the virus.

Bird flu is known to rarely affect broiler farms, which have modernized disinfection facilities and butcher chickens after raising them without much contact with humans. As of Wednesday, birds at only two broiler farms tested positive for the disease, with just a small number slaughtered.

The council said broiler prices have dropped somewhat due to decreased consumption, but they could surge beginning in January as the supply of fresh chickens is feared to drop sharply.

Making matters worse, broiler farms could face a double whammy due to plunging chicken consumption as the bird flu outbreak has made people reluctant to eat the meat, it said.

"Chicken farmers may be hit hard should chicken consumption drop further," said Kim Soo-yong, a spokesman of the council. "A price hike would not be of great help to their income because of weaker demand."

Indeed, sales of chicken at E-Mart, South Korea's leading discount chain, plunged nearly 23 percent from Nov. 21-Dec. 20 from the previous one-month period, with turnover at other stores nationwide sinking about 20 percent.

The country's largest AI outbreak has also sent egg prices soaring due to a record number of slaughtered chickens.

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