Saturday, December 03, 2005

Implications of the Avian Flu

Well, there may be a bigger problem here than I originally expected. According to this AP report, in the Billings Gazette:

Ukrainians, meanwhile, began debating whether to stop buying poultry - the only meat many in this poor nation can afford.

Two issues here.

First, poultry is the cheapest meat around, well, if you are talking about "meat" in the traditional sense, and even then, it is not cheap when you compare income vs. costs. A kilo (2.2 lbs) of chicken typically runs around $2-3 which may not sound like much until you remember that the average Ukrainian monthly household income runs somewhere south of $200 (I won't try to pin that down since official reports put it at around $100 per month but most Ukrainians work in some way with the shadow economy that is not recorded.). Beef typically runs about 2.5 times more.

Second, if past experience with Ukrainians is any indication, this will be a big concern. I wouldn't be surprised if a large number of people, the majority, stop eating chicken completely.

Then you have this:

“I don't see any reason for panic, the situation is under control,” Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivsky told reporters in Kiev after announcing a two-mile quarantine around the four villages.

The only problem with Mr. Baranivsky's statement is that the majority of Ukrainians don't trust the government and his assurances are probably falling on deaf ears.

Even more troubling is the issue of pensioners. They are living on less than $50 per month and if they drop the chicken, how can they afford the even more expensive beef. With the winter just starting and vegetables now sky high, it could be tough for a lot of folks. Potatoes and cabbage will become even more of a staple than they were already.

I'm not getting panicky here but this could have ramifications I didn't originally anticipate.

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