The price of chicken products could rise following the outbreak of avian flu across South-east Asia, food service suppliers have warned.
In a statement issued by the British Poultry Council, a spokesperson said: "The outbreak of avian influenza will impact on chicken and meat suppliers in the UK as importers try to source from other higher-cost producers in the EU or other countries."
All raw frozen chicken imports from Thailand to the EU have been banned. Last year Thailand exported about 50,000 tonnes of chicken to the UK.
A spokesman for Grampian Country Foods, which has a chicken processing plant in Thailand, said the company would have to "wait and assess" before considering any adjustment to prices. He said: "There is the potential for prices to go up." This view was echoed by Norfolk-based supplier Tulip Foodservice. However, a spokesman added: "We will have to wait for a few weeks before we can ascertain the impact."
Imported Thai chicken mostly finds it way into ready meals and other prepared convenience foods. Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald's have both banned the use of Thai chicken in their restaurants.
Price rises will largely depend on whether public suspicion prevents any chicken from being sourced from Thailand. The present EU ban will still allow cooked meat to enter the country from Thailand, because avian flu is destroyed during any heat treatment over 70°C.
But can avian flu ever be transmitted to humans through consumption of infected chicken? The Food Standards Authority (FSA) has advised that humans can catch the disease only by being in close contact with infected live chickens. Despite the ban, the risk of catching the disease from handling raw meat was, the FSA said, very low.
Historically, almost all chicken entering this country from Thailand has been cooked. The EU has banned all imports into the UK of raw chicken from Thailand slaughtered after 1 January 2004.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper 29 January -