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Poultry farmer's hard decade from SARS to H7N9

By Xinhua writers Hu Tao and Wang Zheng (Xinhua)

08:12, April 18, 2013

HANGZHOU, April 17 (Xinhua) -- Shi Zhengxiang is frustrated to see 2,500 kg eggs laying in the cold stores for half a month without any customers.

Even worse, 100 kg more is adding to the storage every day.

"With no purchases after the H7N9 cases were reported, some farms have had to slaughter their chickens and ducks to avoid further losses," said Shi.

Shi, 63, is the owner of Hangzhou Shishi Ecological Breeding Co., Ltd., a major producer of poultry, with annual production of over 100,000 chickens and 70 tonnes of eggs, in east China's Zhejiang Province.

But since the H7N9 avian flu arrived in early April, Shi's farm has had no customers.

Live poultry markets have closed and live poultry trading has been banned in some major cities.

Sales of live chickens and chicken products have dropped by over 13 billion yuan (about 2.1 billion U.S. dollars), according to statistics released by the China Animal Agriculture Association (CAAA) on Tuesday.

Economic losses are getting serious for many farmers, with Shi refusing to go to the hospital for a surgical operation so that he can spend more time working to prop up his farm.

"My priority now is saving their lives," Shi said that he felt extremely sad to see his chicken loosing weight.

Shi has had to reduce their feed by half and ensure that they are sterilized in order to cut costs.

The difficulties now being faced by Shi and other farmers are not unlike those they faced a decade ago, when SARS hit China.

"During SARS in 2003, tens of thousands of chickens on my farm were killed. Then the H5N1 bird flu came in 2005," Shi said, with no proper agricultural insurance, the poultry industry suffers every blow from the market.

Even the panic on melamine contaminated milk affected the chicken sale due to people's anxious on the chicken feed safety. He used to pour tens and thousands of eggs into the fish ponds.

"This year, the time to pour eggs to feed fish seems to come again," said Shi, who has never escaped from any round of bird flu.

Shi has insisted that his chicken is safe.

"I have raised chickens for over 20 years, feeding chickens and disinfecting the farm every day. I have never been infected by bird flu," he said.

No H7N9 infections have been reported on poultry farms. Poultry samples that have tested positive for the virus have come from live poultry trading markets, as well as a single wild pigeon in east China's Jiangsu Province.

The virus has sickened 77 people and killed 16 thus far.

"This is likely to become a significant crisis for the poultry industry in a decade," said Xiao Zhiyuan, president of the Guangdong Provincial Poultry Industry Association.

Some listed poultry companies has seen their share prices drop by as much as 9.48 percent since the virus appeared, Xiao said.

"The key point is that customers are losing their confidence (in the poultry products safety)," said one farmer from Zhejiang's capital of Hangzhou who requested anonymity.

Multiple food safety scares in recent years have led people to panic over the safety of poultry products, the farmer said.

Some farmers have left the industry over the past decade, having lost too much time and money to continue. But Shi is not ready to give up his company, ordering 8,000 chicks in preparation for a market rebound.

"Market demand will not increase, but instead surge after the bird flu is over," he said.

"It is impossible for people to refuse to eat chicken and eggs forever. I am confident in the market's recovery," Shi said, adding that he is expecting the government to issue support policies to help the industry weather the crisis.

Latest development of H7N9 in China[Special]

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