MANILA,  February 6, 2004 (STAR) By Rocel C. Felix - Japanese conglomerate Marubeni Corp. is eyeing an initial importation of 30,000 metric tons (MT) of dressed chicken from the Philippines.

Sources from the Philippine Association of Broiler Integrators (PABI) said representatives of Marubeni have approached Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. and PABI members to work out the possibility of acquiring part of their import requirements from the country.

"Marubeni wants to be able to immediately bring to Japan an initial 30,000 metric tons of frozen dressed chicken. This volume is part of their regular imports from China which like Japan is also plagued with the bird flu epidemic," said a PABI official.

With the highly-contagious bird flu epidemic attacking poultry farms in Asia, affected countries like Japan are looking for new sources of dressed chicken to meet their domestic requirements.

Aside from Japan, two other Asian countries, Vietnam and Brunei, have also made inquiries to buy chicken from the Philippines which was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as still free from the highly-contagious avian influenza virus.

Exporting chicken to these three countries should help local poultry raisers who are reeling from the drastic drop in chicken sales and prices.

Gregorio San Diego, president of the United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA), said farmgate prices of live chicken have fallen to an average of P40 per kilo from the high of P68 per kilo posted last Dec. 31 when demand rose during the Christmas festivities.

"The bird flu scare or panic more than the bird flu which is not even in our shores so far, is what will kill the industry. In the last two weeks, the sales of small poultry raisers dropped by as much as 50 percent," said San Diego.

San Diego added that UBRA members, mostly small-and-medium-sized poultry growers noted sharp drops in their sales following reports that 19 40-footer refrigerated vans containing smuggled frozen chicken leg quarters from Taiwan slipped into the port of Batangas on Jan.23.

He said that poultry grower’ losses are mounting as farmgate prices have been steadily declining as consumers shy away from chicken.

"We are already selling at P40 per kilo, which means we are losing P20 per kilo because our production cost is P60 per kilo," said San Diego.

UBRA’s production account for about 20 percent of total chicken production in the country.

On the other hand, the large-scale broiler integrators under PABI such as San Miguel Foods Inc., Swift Foods Inc., Vitarich Corp., Universal Robina Corp., and Tyson Agro-Ventures, supplies 80 percent of the country’s chicken requirements.

Due to the decline in local demand for chicken, retail prices has also gone down in recent days. The retail price of chicken is at an average of P110 per kilo in Metro Manila markets, from a high of P130 per kilo registered last December.

Consumers are concerned over the avian flu as it is being tagged as the cause of death of at least 16 people in Vietnam.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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