Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The chicken crisis

The worldwide Avian Flu panic has hit Jordanian poultry farmers hard. Consumption of eggs and chicken has plummeted, along with the prices of these commodities, and some farmers are close to going out of business. The Jordanian Veterinarians Association blames the government, implying that it's high profile attempts to stop the disease are panicking customers.

I hate to see entrepreneurs in Jordan getting hurt like this. People are indeed panicking, and official assurances have little effect in convincing people that Jordan is free of bird flu. Al Ghad cites a crisis of confidence between consumers and the government on this and many other issues. This is like the government trying to convince people that there was no earthquake eminent last September.

In my humble opinion, people who don't fully understand the reason for the panic should visit a place where most Jordanians buy their chicken. These are small stores called nattafat (from the colloquial verb nataf, meaning plucked). In these pluckeries, if you like, live chickens are kept in cages piled up to near the ceiling. After the customer chooses his chicken, the unsanitary looking worker pulls the bird out of the cage, and slits its neck, putting it out of its misery. A large vat of hot water is available, where the carcass is dunked for a couple of minutes, to loosen the feathers. At the end of the day, the water is thrown out. The chicken is then put in a centrifugical device which does the natif. The remaining feathers are removed manually, and the chicken is degutted and cut up on a dirty old stone slab. The nattafeh is a small store, where the entire set up described is in a space of 4x4 meters. It stinks terribly. I always wondered how people could eat chicken bought in this way, and I prefer to buy more expensive chicken slaughtered out of my sight. This way I can at least pretend that the thing is clean.

Anyway, when I read about the issue of Avian flu on the WHO website I found this:

Exposure is considered most likely during slaughter, defeathering, butchering, and preparation of poultry for cooking.

Apparently, Jordanian officials are aware of this. So, the poor soul in the nattafeh is the most likely victim, and the house wife, rather than the consumer. Is the government doing anything for them? No. Measures that are being implemented include closing down bird markets (which are different from the nattafat), closing down a bird zoo, and attempting to monopolize the flow of information. This isn't necessarily a way to enhance confidence.

Management of the issue has been poor since the beginning, with the government announcing that it would not compensate for birds lost due to the disease. I didn't think that was a good idea at the time. Now, the government is scaring people without doing anything to prevent the spread of the disease, except designing response scenarios. This is probably good enough, but doesn't solve the problem of the Jordanian families who are loosing their livelihood now. A good step would be to convince people that poultry is a hygienic product, and subject to strict health monitoring. The media is not a substitute for what people see with their own eyes.

By the way, I had a couple of fried eggs this morning. I enjoyed them very much. I encourage you to try some for breakfast.


At 11:33 AM, Blogger salam said...

"This way I can at least pretend that the thing is clean."That's me too!

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

apparently, the chances of someone winning the lottery are higher than catching the bird flu.

At 1:29 AM, Blogger Batir Wardam said...

Thanks Khalaf for the detailed analysis. I hope you do not mind me using your last sentence as an entry point to my article at addustour today. I actually did have eggs on breakfast before reading your blog and liked very much the symbolism of the sentence.

At 7:57 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Batir: No problem. I was amused when I read it, but the whole concept is to spread my ideas.



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