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EU poultry sales recover as bird flu fears ease

By Staff
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PARIS, Mar 24 (Reuters) Poultry sales have continued a patchy recovery across Europe as a dwindling number of new bird flu cases have shifted the media spotlight away from the virus, calming consumer fears, officials said today.

Sales are still weak in some regions and experts warn that the spring migration of wildfowl from Africa could soon bring fresh cases of deadly H5N1 bird flu to Europe.

The European Commission has urged farmers to cut back production in order to shore up weak sales, but has yet to offer any financial compensation. Analysts have said the sector was losing up to 300 million euros a month a few weeks ago.

European Union governments are expected to draw up rules on measures to support prices next month.

In France, which has a 6 billion euro (7.18 billion dollar) poultry industry, the largest in the EU, sales are now around 7-10 percent down on the same period last year.

''We've seen a continuation of the improving trend that's been going on for two weeks,'' Veronique Legoff, spokeswoman for the retail distribution association FCD, told Reuters.

Last week the FCD reported average sales down 10-15 percent.

Unrest in France over a new job law has kept bird flu off the newspaper front pages in a country which is still the only EU member to record H5N1 bird flu in a farmed animal. Many other European countries have found the disease in wild birds.

Sales in France were some 30 percent down a few weeks ago and the H5N1 outbreak at a turkey farm prompted more than 50 countries around the world to curb French poultry imports.

OPTIMISM RETURNS IN GERMANY German sales of poultry recovered slightly in the last week following recent dramatic falls, industry association ZDG said.

''We have noticed a slight increase or at least a stabilisation,'' said ZDG chief executive Siegfried Hart said.

In early March, the ZDG said poultry sales had fallen over 20 percent from previous levels because of bird flu.

''There is bound to be an emotional response by consumers when such media coverage occurs but we are starting to see some optimism returning in our industry,'' Hart said.

Dutch poultry farmers and exporters said domestic sales of chicken meat and eggs had not been affected but exports were suffering. The Netherlands is among the world's top poultry exporters and Europe's second biggest producer.

''Our big problem is Germany -- this is our core market and exports have fallen by about 20 to 25 percent,'' Dre van de Riet, spokesman for the Livestock, Meat and Eggs Board, told Reuters.

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