Poultry Consumption Tumbles in South Korea on Bird Flu Outbreak

South Korea’s domestic poultry demand tumbled by as much as 70 percent since the outbreak of the H5N8 avian influenza virus last month, the agriculture ministry said.

Authorities have culled 3.2 million chickens and ducks at 154 farms, Lee Jun Won, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said in a briefing today. As of this morning, the government had not found any new cases of the strain since Feb. 6, the ministry said in separate e-mailed statement.

The government in Asia’s fourth-biggest economy will help ease consumer concerns about poultry products and work with producer and retailer groups to promote consumption to keep local prices from sliding sharply, the ministry said today, without providing further details on prices or volumes.

Retail prices for chicken averaged 5,661 won ($5.28) a kilogram on Feb. 7, compared with 6,064 won a month ago, data on the website of state-run Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp. showed. The average price of beef ribs from Korean cattle rose to 4,442 won per 100 grams from 4,359 won per 100 grams.

The Asian nation, the world’s third-biggest buyer of corn, used in food, feed and bio-fuels, destroyed and buried 6.5 million poultry in a previous outbreak spanning December 2010 through May 2011, according to government data.

The spread of the H7N9 virus among poultry in live bird markets in China’s Guangxi Province has increased the risk that it will spread to other neighboring countries, posing an increased human health risk, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in a statement Feb. 5.

South Korea hasn’t reported any cases of the H7N9 strain, which has caused deaths in people in China. There have not been any reported cases of H5N8 in people in South Korea.