26 October 2005

The Web
Business Today

No simulation: avian flu scare damages poultry trade

Matthew Vella
In just a short space of seven days, the island’s poultry trade suffered the brunt of sensationalist journalism and an avian flu simulation exercise that was far too real for the Maltese public.
It was an immediate impact for poultry farmers who told Business Today the avian flu response simulation conducted last week by the Civil Protection Department and the police force along with the Minister of Environment and Rural Affairs had delivered deleterious effects on their trade. Some have even reported initial damage of 50 per cent decreases in sales.
Directors have even written to newspapers calling for a proper reporting of the event which seemed to have sent the erroneous message that the avian flu had struck the island.Paul Gauci, director at Valle del Miele, said the media had to be more specific about its reporting as the news stories carried out last week had sent wrong messages to the public: “let’s not alarm the public. The simulation exercise was misunderstood, and it affected our business because so many people were asking questions after the event.”
More grave were admissions by production engineer Grace Spiteri at Smina farm, which said trade cancellations happened almost instantly after the simulation exercise took place. “We contacted newsrooms, to tell them about the problems they had created us. Basically people just read the headlines and are instantly alarmed. Consumers are still looking for local produce in this respect, so we should not be alarming them. The media has to report exactly what is happening.”
Buxom’s Edward Borg was unequivocal about effects to the business: “it affected 50 per cent of our sales. The effects were very negative, as people believed we had a real case of avian flu. It was not reporting, and it appears the Maltese do not understand what a ‘simulation’ is. Government has to clarify this misgiving. Everything was fine before the exercise, now we have taken a severe impact on sales.”
Business Today also asked for comments from Food Chain Ltd, the company which operates Kentucky Fried Chicken, however no answer was forthcoming at the time of going to press.
A simulation exercise was carried out last week to measure the local response to a potential outbreak of bird flu. The exercise started when a “farmer” called the Food and Veterinary Division to report that he had found 500 “dead chickens”. The reaction of the division was immediate, with the veterinary team immediately leaving for the site to conduct tests. As soon as the vet’s diagnosis declared the chickens had died from avian flu, the head of the Civil Protection Department, Peter Cordina, was informed, along with the army and the police. A three-kilometre radius surrounding the identified area was sealed off by a team of 20 police officers and 23 soldiers. Vets also visited farms in the vicinity to check for any problems there too.
The effects of the exercise has generated somewhat of a scare amongst the public with as many as 200 calls an hour being received on an emergency line that allows people to report dead birds or suspicions of bird flu. Most calls are however being made to report the death of a single bird or pigeon. The Ministry has urged the public to use its discretion in reporting cases. But just two days after the simulation exercise, the CPD found themselves handling a real suspected case of bird flu when two dead birds were found on a ship at the Freeport. Tests on the birds proved negative.

Business Today is published weekly on Wednesdays.
Website is updated weekly on Thursdays
Copyright © MediaToday., Malta
Editor: Kurt Sansone
Business Today, MediaToday, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
Tel: (356) 2138 2741 | Fax: (356) 2138 5075 | E-mail