Bird Flu Poses Little Risk, Packs Big Scare

Feb 20, 2007

By George Anderson

There are a relatively few incidents of bird flu spreading to human beings across the globe but that is not keeping the food industry from preparing for the worst.

The bird or avian flu, as it is also known, is unlikely to have a negative impact on the human population unless the H5N1 strain were to mutate into a form that spreads among people.

If that were the case, the Department of Homeland Security, estimates up to a third of the population could become ill and absenteeism could reach 40 percent or more in the workplace.

Unlike other industries such as healthcare, an Associated Press report points out, most of the preparation for the bird flu coming to the U.S. is being handled by individual companies.

“The industry is actively thinking through contingency plans, so if it should happen, our members would be well prepared to deal with it,” said Tim Hammonds, president of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

Should a bird flu pandemic actually take place in the U.S., Mr. Hammonds said it would likely benefit the supermarket business as consumers would likely decrease the amount of time spent eating out.

“That means stores would need to be prepared for an increase in volume,” he said.

Discussion Questions: What are your thoughts on the potential for a bird flu pandemic that would result in transmission between humans? What level of concern should the industry have about it? What do you see as the likely reaction of the food and grocery industries should a mutation of the H5N1 strain take place?

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5 Comments on "Bird Flu Poses Little Risk, Packs Big Scare"

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Bernice Hurst
15 years 3 months ago

C’est la vie as the saying goes OR–stuff happens. There is no way we can all prepare in advance for all the many things that may or may not happen to us. As I understand it, one of the arguments against vaccinating against flu is that there are so many different types and they all mutate very quickly. Avian, or bird, flu is just one possibility. It makes some sort of sense, I suppose, for all businesses to have contingency plans for any kind of epidemic that means lots of staff being simultaneously sick, and for food businesses to have enough stock or capacity to produce stock to feed the world but if you’re sick, most of the time you don’t want to eat anyway whether at home or in a restaurant. Living life is hard enough without having to worry every day about how you might have to live tomorrow.

David Livingston
15 years 3 months ago

Bird flu is one of many things that we should be concerned about. Computer viruses, tampering with our water supply, environmental disasters, war, cutting off the oil imports, or unspeakable forms of terrorism. We just have do our best to be prepared for the worst. This to me is a security issue that most retailers have already prepared for…some better than others. Some have already retained disaster control experts to outline a plan of action. All the preemptive moves in the world could still not be enough to adequately recover from a disaster.

Craig Sundstrom
15 years 3 months ago

I’m not quite sure why the food industry is being singled out (other than the idea that w/o food distribution, we’d all starve.)

As for mass preparedness–or the lack thereof–I’m unclear what it is that people are supposed to be doing: certain simple precautions in life make sense: carrying jumper cables, knowing CPR, a 3 day ration kit, etc. are all low cost strategies for dealing with contingencies that might plausibly occur (and if that stockpile of Xmas fruitcake carries you through the Nuclear Winter, so much the better;) but does it make sense to spend resources on planning for scenarios wherein 40% of your employees, 30% of your customers, 53% of your suppliers, 83% of your transportation…are all disabled? Not to me.

Mark Lilien
15 years 3 months ago

If sales of Tamiflu are any indication, the possibility of a bird flu epidemic isn’t being taken seriously by the public. If there’s a domestic breakout, it’s likely that the food industry and the government will attempt to use publicity to minimize the threat’s sales impact. There was a lot of talk about Mad Cow but did you see 100% inspection? The only significant action was the temporary ban on Canadian beef imports.

Odonna Mathews
Odonna Mathews
15 years 3 months ago

The best advice for retailers is to be prepared. Although bird flu is not high on consumers’ radar screens as yet, the food industry and others need to be prepared. The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has developed an excellent “action guide” on avian influenza and preparedness for the grocery industry as well as a consumer brochure that can also be used with staffers.

I’d suggest that retailers check out today and ask themselves, “Are we prepared?” According to the FMI guide, “The threat is so significant that it deserves to be understood and some degree of contingency planning should be carried out by every company in the industry.”


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