PHL chicken exports declining even before discovery of bird flu

Even before avian influenza (AI) struck Central Luzon, Philippine chicken exports have been declining as government data indicated a double-digit drop in the volume of outbound shipments in the January-to-July period.

Data from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) obtained by the BusinessMirror showed the country’s chicken-meat exports during the seven-month period reached 2,609.374 metric tons (MT), 12.23 percent lower than last year’s 2,973.064 MT.

BAI data indicated that Japan was the sole buyer of chicken products exported by the Philippines during the period. Last year the United Arab Emirates bought 40.101 MT of chicken meat from the Philippines.

BAI Assistant Director Simeon S. Amurao Jr. attributed the decline in shipments to the stiff competition posed by neighboring Southeast Asian countries, particularly Thailand.

“Probably the reason would be competition issues, especially with Thailand, because they produce cheaper chicken. And Thailand has announced that they will ramp up their chicken exports this year,” Amurao told the BusinessMirror.

In an earlier interview, Amurao said the Philippines has lost a chunk of its market share in Japan when it started importing chicken from Thailand in January 2014.

Tokyo announced the lifting of a decadelong ban on poultry products, including raw chicken meat, from Thailand in December 2013. Thailand’s chicken industry was nearly crippled after it was hit by bird flu in 2004.

Thai chicken meat is widely used in Japanese dishes, such as fried chicken (karaage), chicken and egg rice (oyakodon) and chicken hot pot, and in popular Thai dishes in Japan, such as green curry, grilled chicken, kaprao kai, as well as in Chinese food.

Last year the Philippines shipped 5,000.121 MT of chicken meat. The bulk, or 4,965.020 MT, was bought by Japan.

A recent Global Agricultural Information Network (Gain) report indicated that Japan may import more chicken from Thailand to meet domestic demand as it has also closed its borders to Brazilian meat products.

“Exports to Japan increased by 17 percent when Japan turned in more purchases from Thai suppliers after reports of a spoiled meat scandal in Brazil,” the Gain report read.

“Japan currently accounts for 51 percent of Thai chicken-meat exports in the first seven [months] of 2017, up from 49 percent in the same period of 2016,” it added.

An online news report indicated that Thailand is targeting to expand its shipments of frozen chicken products to Japan by 19.71 percent to 150,000 MT, from last year’s 125,295 MT.

Since mid-August Japan has restricted the entry of chicken meat from the Philippines after Manila confirmed the outbreak of bird flu in some Central Luzon towns.

Tokyo informed Manila of its decision to prohibit the entry of Philippine poultry products in Japan via an official communication dated August 14.

Japan’s Chief Veterinary Officer Norio Kumagai addressed his letter to Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Livestock Enrico P. Garzon Jr.

“This is to inform you that we have suspended the import of poultry products [other than feather and down] from the Philippines as of August 12, based on the information on the detection of HPAI [virus serotype H5] at a poultry farm in the Philippines, which was notified to OIE [World Organisation for Animal Health] by your authority,” the letter read, a copy of which was obtained by the BusinessMirror.

Kumagai, who is also the director of Animal Health Division of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’s Food Safety and Consumers Affairs Bureau, said the import ban will be imposed “indefinitely.”

“We would like you to provide us with detailed information of the outbreak, including date of stamping out and disinfection for affected premises when it becomes available to let us review this suspension appropriately,” he said.

In a recent interview, BAI Officer in Charge Ronnie D. Domingo said the Philippines may regain its bird flu-free status before the end of the year, as the government would soon be able to complete the roll out of all the necessary measures to manage the AI virus.

Domingo added that they plan to notify the OIE that the Philippines is already bird flu-free by December 20, more than four months after the virus was discovered in some towns in Central Luzon.

“International bodies like the OIE [requires official report] so we can regain our bird flu-free status. Our target is to inform them by December 20,” he said. “We will inform them that we have already conducted disinfection procedures and have controlled the movement of animals.”