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McDonald's Spells Out Steps It Is Taking Amid Bird-Flu Fears
posted by admin on 18/04/06

The company has asked some foreign suppliers to start housing their chickens in enclosed environments.

Amid predictions that bird flu will soon arrive in the U.S., McDonald's Corp. said all of the U.S. chickens it has used over the past 10 months have come from flocks screened for avian flu.

McDonald's, which has been quiet about how it is preparing for a possible bird-flu outbreak in U.S. poultry, laid out some of the steps it is taking. The nation's largest fast-food chain, as measured by sales, is testing birds in the U.S. and working to slow the spread of the disease in countries where it has surfaced.

McDonald's said it is working to install a better veterinary structure in countries where the deadly Asian strain of H5N1 bird flu is a particular threat. McDonald's said that after bird-flu cases were confirmed in parts of Europe, chicken sales dropped at restaurants but later rebounded.

The company has asked some foreign suppliers to start housing their chickens in enclosed environments. By confining poultry, farmers reduce the chance that their flocks will be exposed to wild birds that carry the virus.

"Avian influenza is a serious world-wide threat that must be dealt with," said Mike Roberts, McDonald's president and chief operating officer. "Our firewalls are as strong as they've ever been to protect us."

Bird flu has become a major health issue because scientists are concerned it could mutate into a form that easily infects humans. So far, however, this flu is mostly a disease of birds and is relatively hard for people to catch. The virus is killed by proper cooking of the meat. The vast majority of people who have contracted the flu have had close contact with infected birds.

The company said that its U.S. chicken supply is vertically integrated, which allows it to trace all of its poultry back to the hatchery. By comparison, it can trace only 30% of its beef sold in restaurants back to the cattle. McDonald's has been adding more chicken items to its menu as part of a broad plan to expand into premium items including salads.

McDonald's officials called avian flu an industry issue but added that the company's size puts it in a unique position to help prevent its spread. It said, for instance, that it has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to help Vietnam inoculate poultry in that country after learning that there were few resources to test birds there.

Write to Janet Adamy at janet.adamy@wsj.com


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