Bird flu yet to infect Saudi economy

Scare gripping kingdom has yet to impact on economy, despite culling of 4.5mn birds, ministry says.

The bird flu scare that has gripped Saudi Arabia and forced the government to cull almost 4.5 million birds has yet to significantly impact on the kingdom’s economy, an Agriculture Ministry official said on Thursday.

Khalid Al-Fahaid, head of the ministry’s media department, said the number of birds killed so far made up just a tiny percent of the total poultry population.

“There is no significant impact on the economy as the 4.5 million birds culled so far only represent less than one percent of the entire poultry population in the kingdom,” Al-Fahaid told ArabianBusiness.com.

He estimated there are around 532 million birds in Saudi Arabia and those culled since the outbreak began in early November only represent 0.8% of that total.

Al-Fahaid said the government is providing financial compensation to farmers affected by the outbreak - 80% of the total amount lost - but the birds have to be culled by the Agriculture Ministry for farmers to be eligible.

“Only birds that are culled by the ministry will be compensated,” he said, asking farmers to coordinate with the ministry before destroying any bird.

Al-Fahaid’s remarks come a day after the government was forced to cull another 400,000 birds infected with the deadly H5N1 strain.

So far the outbreak has been limited to just the Riyadh province, but concerns over the spread of the disease to other parts of the kingdom have grown steadily in recent weeks as Saudi Arabia prepares for the Haj.

Jabir Al-Shehri, manager of the Agriculture Ministry’s western province, said farms surrounding the port city of Jeddah, the gateway for pilgrims to Mecca and Medina, are still safe from bird flu.

As a precaution, the Agriculture Ministry last week banned the shipment of live birds from the Riyadh province to Mecca for one month.

“We are still imposing the ban and we are banning the sale of live birds in Mecca,” Al-Shehri told ArabianBusiness.com.

According to the ministry, there are 505 poultry farms in the kingdom with 101 table-egg farms producing over 3.2 billion eggs annually.

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