Canadian Poultry Magazine

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FROM THE EDITOR: August 2006

At a recent family wedding, something interesting occurred that served as a reminder


January 14, 2008
By Kristy Nudds


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At a recent family wedding, something interesting occurred that served as a reminder to me about how consumers perceive H5N1. 
At this wedding, I sat beside a young woman who piled her plate high with turkey and stuffing, one of two dinner choices. 

At a recent family wedding, something interesting occurred that served as a reminder to me about how consumers perceive H5N1. 
At this wedding, I sat beside a young woman who piled her plate high with turkey and stuffing, one of two dinner choices. 

What made her actions interesting was that just the night before, she told me that she was concerned about H5N1.  Her comment stemmed from a conversation her husband and I were having about the recent cases of BSE identified in Western Canada, and how this news barely caused a stir; a mere blip on the public radar.  Like her husband, she didn’t really seem too concerned about this news.  However, she was quick to point out that “avian flu is what I really keep my eyes on.”

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It was obvious from her appetite that she wasn’t afraid of eating poultry.  I sensed it was pandemic influenza that was the source of her fear, and upon further discussion this became more apparent.

I couldn’t help but wonder if her appetite for poultry would cease should H5N1 be identified in Canada.

This is the question on the mind of nearly everyone in the industry.  In fact, president and CEO of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council (CPEPC) Robin Horel told delegates at its recent annual convention that despite issues with supply chain management, loss of consumer confidence was what concerned him the most.

Mr. Horel has good reason to be concerned.  Countries that have experienced H5N1 outbreaks have seen consumption decline because of consumer fear of the unknown.

This is shown in a recent survey released by the Directorate General Health and Consumer Protection branch of the European Commission.

Nearly 25,000 people in 25 member EU states and four other countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey) were polled.  A fundamental objective of this survey was to obtain a better understanding of declared and planned changes in consumer behaviour as a consequence of the AI virus outbreak. 

The survey revealed that overall, 18 per cent of EU citizens are eating less poultry meat, and that 13 per cent are eating fewer eggs than they were in the latter part of 2005.

Among those who have reduced their consumption of poultry meat, 15 per cent of those polled felt it was dangerous to eat poultry at the present time.  These respondents were identified as residing in a country that has experienced an outbreak of H5N1. 

However, 48 per cent indicated that they chose not to eat poultry meat at the present time because as they do not really know whether or not it is a health risk, they preferred to adopt a cautious attitude. 

It’s this type of precautionary behaviour that could have the most detrimental effect on our industry. With all of the media hype over pandemic flu, it’s almost a guarantee that some Canadian consumers will be cautious about purchasing and eating poultry products should H5N1 arrive here.

Just how many Canadians will feel this way will largely be dependent upon how a good a job we do in letting them know that poultry is safe to eat, and that we have the necessary safeguards in place.  We’re definitely not there yet. 

My belief stems from inconsistent and hard to find (for consumers) messaging from Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and industry associations.  I was pleased to hear Mr. Horel identify this concern at the CPEPC meeting, telling delegates that communication is getting better, giving it a ‘C’ on his report card for AI preparedness (see pg. 14). 

But I think he was a little too generous. If the primary goal is to maintain consumer confidence, we need to bring consumers into the loop sooner than later.  

Those working in health care communications have been much better (and far quicker) at disseminating educational materials to the public than we have, and this is working against us. It’s not hard to figure out why consumers are afraid of the unknown when they can read posters or pamphlets on pandemic flu at the doctors’ office or in the newspaper. 

Do they know where to go to get industry information?  Likely not.

We need to be providing some guidance.     


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