With the advent of the winter season, threats of avian flu have resurfaced. Earlier this month, the Egyptian Ministry of Health announced the death of a 30-year-old woman from Gharbiya governorate as a result of infection by the H5N1 avian influenza.
The H5N1 strain of avian flu, known as bird flu, appeared in Egypt in February 2006, and the poultry industry has been in a critical situation ever since as the government pursues its efforts to eradicate the disease. In a bid to prevent the spread of bird flu this winter, Cairo Governor Abdel-Azim Wazir announced last month the closure of all Cairo's chicken slaughterhouses.
Abdel-Aziz El-Sayed, head of the Poultry Division at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, said producers expressed surprise at the governor's decision, enshrined in Decree 70/2009 which stated that dealing and selling live poultry was banned in Egypt. The main aim of the ban, in place since May 2009, is to combat the spread of the highly contagious flu.
Under the new law, only licensed slaughterhouses with a resident veterinarian, inspecting the whole production process, are allowed to handle live poultry. "If we are licensed to do so, why should our slaughterhouses be closed?" El-Sayed asked, adding that the closure of slaughterhouses means that about 2,500 to 3,000 employees would be laid off. "I can't see any reason for the closure as long as the slaughterhouses meet all the government's conditions," El-Sayed told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Salama Shalsh, another member of the Poultry Division, agreed with El-Sayed, adding no poultry could enter slaughterhouses without permission from the Directorate of Veterinary Medicine that ensures that the poultry are not infected by bird flu or any other virus.
El-Sayed said that the Poultry Division has met with Ibrahim El-Arabi, chairman of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, to discuss this decision and make recommendations. First, its members recommended the implementation of Resolution 70/ 2009 that bans selling live poultry, in addition to the implementation of Ministerial Decree 432/ 2009 that offers slaughterhouses all over Egypt a deadline to meet government requirements until December 2014.
They also recommended that inspection committees should examine slaughterhouses and if any shortfalls are found, slaughterhouses should be given 15 days as a grace period to meet the conditions before they are shut down. "El-Arabi sent a memo to the governor with our recommendations and he responded by forming a committee to inspect and follow-up on Cairo's slaughterhouses," El-Sayed said.
Speaking to the Weekly on condition of anonymity, the owner of a slaughterhouse in Cairo said there is no need for this decision at all as bird flu has now been nearly eradicated, adding that the losses as a result of closure would be large. He also said that if the government intends to close all Cairo's slaughterhouses, it should provide an alternative.
The poultry worker also stated that there are 52 slaughterhouses in Cairo, and the government should work on transferring these slaughterhouses outside residential areas before resorting to their closure. "If the government provides us with the appropriate space and with the necessary facilities to operate our slaughterhouses, we have no objection to move," he said.
Egypt's poultry industry has faced many challenges in the years since bird flu appeared in February 2006, as the problem was not handled correctly, resulting in its spread. According to El-Sayed, this was due to random treatment, unregulated actions, a lack of compliance to the law and regulations, and a lack of experience in dealing with such threats. "The poultry industry lost LE2-3 million in 2006. However, losses then decreased in the following years as the industry then learned how to deal with the problem," El-Sayed said.
El-Sayed added that current poultry production is low, as domestic demand decreased recently because of Eid Al-Adha, for which people prefer buying meat. This resulted in a decrease in the prices of poultry. He is worried that decreased demand accompanied by high production cost will force some producers to quit the industry altogether, resulting in a supply shortfall and a rise in prices. "Prices could increase to rates reached during last Ramadan, when they were abnormally high," he said.
El-Sayed also pointed out that currently the market is stagnant and that there is a decreased demand on poultry. Further, the recent shark attacks that took place in Sharm El-Sheikh could negatively affect the demand on chicken. "If this incident negatively impacts tourism, it would definitely affect the demand on poultry as the tourism industry is a large consumer," he said.