Industrialization of Poultry Production in China

Poultry meat and eggs were not traditionally an important part of the Chinese diet. They were considered luxury goods for consumption on special occasions. Over the past three decades, however, China’s per capita poultry consumption has increased from barely 1kg to over 9kg per year. Today, the poultry industry in China is dominated by chicken production which comprises 70 to 80 percent of all poultry production. On a macro level, by 2011 the country was already the second largest producer of poultry meat and eggs in the world and the size of the industry continues to expand.

This report tracks the growth of the Chinese poultry industry during the past three decades and the implications of this development. China’s poultry industry is going through rapid industrialization, characterized by intensification of farming, horizontal consolidation and vertical integration. Both the size of the industry and changes in poultry production practices (in conjunction with development in the livestock sector as a whole) have significant implications for public health, the environment, rural livelihoods and animal welfare.

The poultry industry is, in some ways, the most vertically integrated and industrialized system of livestock production in China. The policy emphasis in this sector (like all other meat sectors in China) is on scaling up and further intensification. The sector has a large number of firms competing over low prices with low profit margins, leading to immense pressure by firms to cut costs. At the same time, to remain competitive and meet production and consumption targets, firms are dramatically increasing production—raising more and more birds in confined spaces.

Population growth, rising income and urbanization are commonly seen as the main drivers of poultry demand in China. However, government policy choices, growth and marketing of quick service restaurants (QSRs) and super markets, food safety concerns, costs of production (labor, land and feed) and environmental limitations (including feed, land and water constraints) have and will continue to shape demand in the livestock sector and poultry is no exception.

With rising concentrations of poultry in production facilities, more food safety scandals are coming to light. Scandals such as the KFC “instant chicken” scandal where more than 18 different antibiotics and other chemicals were found in retail chicken and epidemics such as the recent avian flu outbreak in 2013 lead to sharp drops in poultry demand. And they are changing the way poultry is marketed and consumed. The cost-cutting practices are also leading to serious worker safety issues as demonstrated by the fire that killed a 120 people in the Jilin Baoyuanfeng Poultry Plant last summer.

Food safety concerns, in turn, are driving the government and consumers to demand greater control of the supply chain, slowly shifting consumer habits towards more processed poultry bought in supermarkets. Currently, most livestock products in China are distributed by many small traders. Outside tier-one cities, the cold chain is still fragmented, supporting wet markets as the major distribution channel. However, the biggest future shift seems to be the expansion of organized retail in marketing poultry products—taking away the share from wet markets. And retail outlets are capitalizing on food safety concerns as a way to increase their market share and will contribute to shifting production practices by exerting greater control over the supply chain.

However, wet markets and consumer preferences for fresh meat will continue to dominate the Chinese market in the coming decade. Wet markets are being singled out as a major source of disease epidemics; while “specialized” producers, much smaller and weaker than the firms that contract with them, are being blamed for food safety issues. Food safety concerns are also facilitating major global powers such as Tyson to acquire farms in China and control the entire production process through a “grow out” model that owns and manages the entire supply chain—providing organized retail with a “traceable” supply of industrial poultry, building consumer confidence that the product is “safe.” Tyson, Cargill and Brazil’s Marfrig and BRF are all integrating themselves in the Chinese market. Meanwhile, the top Chinese companies such as Wens are producing close to a billion birds a year, through contracts with farmers, to meet Chinese demand. Specialized (smaller farms) are either rapidly disappearing or consolidating into much larger scale of production to remain competitive. All signs indicate that this process is set to intensify in the years to come as both poultry production and consumption are expected to grow.

China is a net importer of poultry meat in terms of volume and a major importer of poultry by-products, such as wings and feet and internal organs which are considered offal in the rest of the world. However, China’s poultry imports have been very volatile in the last 15 years because of frequent trade disputes, particularly with the U.S. In 2011, three-fourths of China’s poultry imports were from Brazil and more Brazilian processors are receiving certification to export to China contingent on food safety standards. Brazilian companies are competing with U.S. ones for top export spot for various poultry parts. Imports of chicken feet from Brazil have declined, while those from the U.S. have dramatically increased since April 2011. Brazil is China’s biggest wing exporter. Despite a declining overall trend in imports in recent years, Rabobank believes that China’s poultry imports will increase because of China’s complementary market for offal compared to the rest of the world. Chinese companies are also expected to invest more overseas in Brazil, Argentina and the U.S. to secure poultry supply for the Chinese market.

The industrial model of production continues to present significant challenges to China’s food safety, public health, environment and viable rural livelihoods. The report demonstrates that a much more systemic analysis is needed to examine the true costs of this model and the costs and benefits of consuming poultry produced in this manner. A finer look at the structure of the market, firm behavior and price competition is urgently needed to understand the perverse incentives this model is creating to cut costs upstream. This “race to the bottom” is leading to a host of problems related to food safety, worker health and posing significant challenges in building a remunerative and regenerative agriculture system that involves small producers. The current model, as in the U.S., continues to externalize the true costs of this production at the expense of much healthier and agroecological choices. However, deliberate policy choices have the potential to alter this system towards a more sustainable pathway in the coming decade. Some alternatives such as Beijing’s organic market and community supported agriculture projects are already underway as Chinese urban consumers are waking up to the health and ecological costs of this mode of production. It is hoped that this report contributes to such a rethink on alternatives to the current approach.


Red flags in china’s disease control

H7N9 bird flu is back in China. Since last October, more than 165 new human H7N9 cases have been reported, compared with 136 last spring. At least 115 cases (with 25 fatalities) have been confirmed this year.

While the mortality rate of H7N9 is not as high as that of H5N1, the total number of H7N9 cases identified in the past month equals the number of H5N1 cases reported in 2006 (the most active calendar year for H5N1).

In contrast to the systematic cover-up and inaction during the initial stage of the 2002–03 SARS outbreak, the Chinese government has handled the outbreak in a more transparent and decisive manner. It updates bird flu data on a regular basis. Live poultry trading was halted in many cities of Eastern China.

Central health authorities have dispatched expert teams to affected provinces to supervise local hospitals in diagnosing and treating H7N9 patients. Most confirmed human cases of H7N9 have been isolated. In so doing, China has benefited from an enhanced disease surveillance and reporting system and improved surge response capacity.

Note from the N2GF team: Harm Kiezebrink and Derk van Wijk joined the WHO SARS team end of 2003 to advise China’s Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health on outbreak management of infectious animal diseases. Today, Harm is still advising the Chinese government on developing new strategies for culling & disposal of diseased animals.


Anoxia presentation Australia

This is the 3th presentation of a series of documents, presented during the conference on the application of the Anoxia method for euthanizing animals.

The conference is held in Canberra (Australia) on February 21, 2014. The conference is organized for representatives of animal welfare organizations, Australian animal health authorities and the industry and gives an overview of more scientific based information on the Anoxia method.


Creating Nitrogen on location: important new animal welfare application

This is the second presentation of a series of documents, presented during the conference on the application of the Anoxia method for euthanizing animals.

The conference is held in Canberra (Australia) on February 21, 2014. The conference is organized for representatives of animal welfare organizations, Australian animal health authorities and the industry gives a general overview of the Anoxia technique.


From Ausvet plan to implementation

This is the 1st presentation of a series of documents, presented during the conference on the application of the Anoxia method for euthanizing animals. The conference is held in Canberra (Australia) on February 21, 2014. The conference is organized for representatives of animal welfare organizations, Australian animal health authorities and the industry and gives an overview of some important practical issues related to Emergency Response, based on my experiences during the outbreak of H7N7 in Holland.


OIE animal welfare killing of poultry for disease control

In January 2012, the OIE gave in Japan an update on the latest developments in killing animals for disease control purposes. The Anoxia method was one of the presented techniques. Today, one year later, the Anoxia technique is commercially available worldwide. Inhumane killing of animals is not longer necessary and the risks of getting infected has been reduced to a minimum.


Why is animal cruelty in February 2014 still front-page news in South Korea?

Unbelievable but true: South Korea still thinks that there’s no other solution than dispose infected poultry by dumping them in deep holes and burry the chickens alive without stunning or culling them first. Yesterday it was in the Korean news that Korea still uses the method of mass burial of chickens. Despite that this is absolutely unnecessary. 10 years ago, I started to develop the Anoxia method, a culling method that is cheap and 100% effective, without unnecessary human intervention and without any unnecessary stress or pain for the animal. The technique has been tested and approved and is today the most welfare friendly culling technique available. It is since 2013 on the market and commercially available.

See the following clip:

See the article published in 2011:


Dossier H7N9: The Australian response

Australia’s federal Department of Health has advised general practitioners to be on the lookout for potential cases of the H7N9 strain of influenza A, or bird flu, following a spate of deaths in China.

Chinese authorities at the Centre for Health Protection are taking the threat very seriously: control points have been set up to detect infected people with thermal imaging and all suspected cases will be referred to hospital for assessment.

The threat has been particularly serious over the past week, as hundreds of millions of Chinese returned to their home villages to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday.


The broiler’s last day of life

Original paper Title: ‘The Broiler’s last day of life: Influences of feed withdrawal, catching and transport on physiology and losses of broilers’, by Edwin Nijdam. Before slaughter, broilers are subjected to several preslaughter management events such as feed withdrawal, catching, crating, transport, and lairage. The aim of this study was to gain insight into factors which influence mortality, stress, energy metabolism, and meat quality of the broilers on the last day of their life.

The mean percentage of broilers that arrived dead at the conveyer belt of the slaughterhouse (DOA) was 0.46. Factors associated with DOA percentage were ambient temperature, moment of transport, catching company, breed, flock size, mean body weight, mean compartment stocking density, transport time, lairage time, and the interaction term transport time x ambient temperature. The most important factors that influence DOA percentage, and which could be reduced relatively easily, were compartment stocking density (Odds Ratio (OR) = 1.09 for each additional bird in a compartment), transport time (OR = 1.06 for each additional 15 min), and lairage time (OR = 1.03 for each additional 15 min). Moreover, the mean percentage of bruises was 2.20. Factors associated with corrected bruises percentage were season, moment of transport, and ambient temperature.

To establish predisposing factors for DOA broilers a gross post mortem investigation was done. Macroscopic lesions were found in 89.4% of DOA broilers. Signs of infectious diseases appeared to be most frequent (64.9%), followed by heart and circulation disorders (42.4%), and trauma (29.5%). The right ventricle mass to the total ventricle mass (RV:TV) was significantly higher in DOA broilers than in slaughtered broilers.

Manual catching of broilers leads to stress in the birds and is backbreaking for the workers. Therefore, mechanical catching of broilers was investigated. Mechanical catching was associated with higher DOA percentages than manual catching. However, the catching method did not influence the percentages of bruises, meat quality, and corticosterone (CORT) levels.
Feed is normally withdrawn for several hours before catching in order to reduce the danger of carcass contamination. Feed withdrawn broilers showed higher thyroxine and lower triiodothyronine, triglyceride, glucose, and lactate concentrations compared to broilers that had access to feed before the transport intervention. These findings indicate a negative energy balance, and, accordingly, BW losses occurred. BW losses further increase during transport.

To reduce the negative effects of feed withdrawal semisynthetic diets were investigated. After transport the BW loss of broilers fed semisynthetic diets was 0.24% / h less than of feed withdrawn broilers. BW loss of broilers fed conventional diets was 0.28% / h less than of feed withdrawn broilers. Moreover, the digestive tract mass was lower in broilers fed a semisynthetic diet than in broilers fed a conventional diet, which can lead to a lesser degree of contamination during evisceration. Beside that, no increase of CORT was found due to transport in broilers fed a semisynthetic diet, whereas CORT significantly increased during this period in broilers fed a conventional diet. Consequently, semisynthetic feed is a promising alternative for feed withdrawal in the period before catching and crating.


Is the Avian Influenza on the verge in Asia?

More human cases of avian influenza A H7N9 virus infection have been reported in China in the past year than with H5N1 viruses since their emergence in 1997. Is the Avian Influenza on the verge in Asia?

Both reopening of live poultry markets and seasonality might have contributed to an apparent re-emergence of H7N9 human infections in the past month. Whether cases of avian influenza A H10N8 virus infection are going to increase is unknown, because how widely these viruses are circulating in poultry is unknown.

More surveillance will be needed to establish the origin of H10N8 and to monitor potential future transmission events. Additionally, other new avian influenza virus subtypes, reassorting with H9N2 viruses, might emerge in the near future and cause human infections.

In December, 2013, Chinese health officials confirmed the first human case of avian influenza A H10N8 virus infection. In The Lancet, HaiYing Chen and colleagues report the clinical data for this case,3 which coincided with a second wave of avian influenza A H7N9 virus infections in eastern China. A woman aged 73 years was admitted to hospital and shown to have avian influenza A H10N8 virus infection, having become ill 4 days after visiting a live poultry market in Jiangxi province, China. The virus— designated as A/Jiangxi Donghu/346/2013(H10N8), henceforth JX346—was identified by sequencing of tracheal aspirate samples obtained 1 week after illness onset.

Preliminary phylogenetic analysis of the retrieved sequences suggests that JX346 originated through reassortment of H9N2 strains circulating in poultry and recorded in environmental samples from Jiangxi, with one or two viruses contributing haemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes. The data suggest that JX346 arose by reassortment events in domestic birds. JX346 has avian-like receptor specificity, which might contribute to the fatal outcome of infection. It was previously postulated that infection of lower lung sections expressing avian-like sialic acid receptors with avian influenza A H5N1 virus infection might determine the severity of infection outcomes.

So far, only two H10N8 viruses have been reported in China: one environmental isolate from a water sample in Hunan province, China, in 2007, and one from a live poultry market in southern China in 2012. However, phylogenetic analysis shows that JX346 is different from these previously identified viruses. Increased sampling efforts might identify the ancestors of JX346. Sequence analysis of the JX346 haemagglutinin gene shows no indications for a multi-basic cleavage site, suggesting low pathogenicity in poultry. As for the newly emerged avian influenza A H7N9 virus, this low pathogenicity will make surveillance efforts substantially more difficult.

JX346 is the third virus strain generated by re- assortment in avian species that are transmitted to people, and all internal gene segments (PB2, PB1, PA, NP,M,andNS) are derived from H9N2 viruses.The 1997 avian influenza A H5N1 viruses and the H7N9 isolates from China both carried all internal genes from H9N2. This gene cassette might thus be a genetic platform for new strains with zoonotic potential.
As reported by Chen and colleagues, the woman infected with avian influenza A H10N8 virus had several underlying medical conditions (hypertension, coronary heart disease, and myasthenia gravis) and had undergone a thymectomy in December, 2012, which together probably resulted in substantial immune deficiency.

So far, only one additional human case of avian influenza A H10N8 virus infection has been reported: on Jan 26, 2014, health authorities announced infection in a 55-year-old woman in Nanchang, Jiangxi province. This patient developed flu-like symptoms after visiting an agricultural market, and was admitted to hospital 1 week after onset of illness. More surveillance will be needed to establish the origin of H10N8 and monitor potential future transmission events.

Does H10N8 pose a pandemic threat?
The introduction of a new influenza A subtype into people is always a public health concern. However, pandemic viruses are characterised by high transmission. Sustained person- to-person transmission has not been reported with influenza A virus subtypes other than H1, H2, and H3 viruses, and so far H10 viruses are no exception. JX346 did not successfully spread to close contacts, and mild cases of H10N7 virus infection in Australia and Egypt did not transfer to exposed relatives.1 Experiments done to improve understanding of what is necessary for sustained transmission of avian H5N1 influenza A viruses in ferrets in laboratory settings showed several mutations throughout the viral genome (mainly in haemagglutinin and the polymerase complex) that are needed for this adaptation. Of those, JX346 shows PB1 polymorphisms at positions 99 and 368, which are associated with enhanced replication and transmissibility in ferrets, and the well characterised mammalian adaptation PB2 627KLys. However, despite more than 15 years of H5N1 transmission events from birds to people, none of these mutations resulted in a strain that could be transmitted between people.

How virulent is the H10N8 virus?
Although H10N8 is predicted to have low pathogenicity in poultry and other avian species, it is too early to say anything conclusive about its virulence in people because of the small number of cases. Even for avian influenza A H5N1 and H7N9 viruses, the real frequency of mild and asymptomatic infections is unknown, despite the many deaths associated with human infections, because diagnosis and detection is generally done only when patients are admitted to hospital, and therefore is biased towards severe cases.

While increased surveillance might also be responsible for the increase in number of human infections with avian viruses, most human infections are associated with avian viruses containing the H9N2 internal gene cassette, on the basis of available sequences. Studies are needed to understand how this internal cassette helps avian influenza viruses seemingly well adapted to poultry to also jump more frequently into people and cause disease.

read Lancet article, published online February 5, 2014: