Alibaba Cautions Online Poultry Sellers on Bird Flu

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and other Chinese e-commerce sites are taking steps to protect against the spread of bird flu as concerns rise the H7N9 variant that’s killed nine people could spur an epidemic.

Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao Marketplace said it would shut down online trading of live poultry “under necessary circumstances” this week. Shanghai-based Tony’s Farm and Beijing-based have halted the sales. Web retailer 360buy Jingdong Inc. will cut down on face-face meetings with suppliers, and stop offering pork and poultry at its employee cafeteria, Richard Liu, chief executive officer of Jingdong, said in a letter to employees last week.

The H7N9 cases may become an opportunity for e-commerce companies as fears of infection prompt more people to stay home and shop online. A 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome helped make e-commerce popular just as it was getting started, said Cao Lei, a director at Hangzhou-based China e-Business Research Center.

“It’s an opportunity and challenge, but in a greater sense an opportunity,” Cao said. “Consumers can cut down on traveling and shopping, and make full use of e-commerce to solve their daily supply needs.”

Out of the 33 H7N9 cases confirmed in China, nine have died as of yesterday, according to the Chinese government. There’s still no evidence that the virus is being passed from one person to another, according to the World Health Organization.

Outbreak Continues

Alibaba generated 4 billion package deliveries in 2012 through its two most popular e-commerce platforms last year, Jack Ma, the company’s chief executive officer, said in February. That accounted for 70 percent of China’s 5.7 billion parcel and express deliveries in 2012.

Taobao this week cautioned traders of live poultry, including chickens and ducks, to limit sales and urged them to follow government health advisories.

“Under necessary circumstances, Taobao will fully shut down online live poultry trading to prevent viruses from spreading through online shopping,” the company said in a posting on its microblog.

Alibaba doesn’t deliver packages itself. Sellers on its platforms contract the service to companies including China Postal Express & Logistics Company Ltd. and S.F. Express Group Co.

Alibaba will adopt appropriate measures if the bird flu virus spreads, Chief Strategy Officer Zeng Ming said in a phone interview April 8.

“If there is a disease outbreak, we will make a great effort to deal with it,” Zeng said.

Jingdong, the second-largest business-to-customer seller in China, barred employees with fever or coughs from coming to work and has minimized employee business trips, CEO Liu said in the letter. Jingdong has more than 30,000 employees in 360 cities.

“If the disease outbreak continues to worsen, and our delivery brothers are unavoidably exposed to infection possibilities, I would rather the company goes bust and stop operations,” said Liu. “If any of our employees get infected with the bird flu because of work, it will be a disgrace for my whole life.”

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