Sri Lankan ministers make a show of eating chicken

Sri Lanka's top government officials made a show of eating chicken on Wednesday hoping to counter fears of bird flu that have sent poultry sales plummeting by around 20 percent on the South Asian island.

The ministers for health, science, media and livestock all took part in the lunchtime event to highlight the safety of eating chicken in Sri Lanka, which has reported no infections of the deadly H5N1 virus in birds or humans.

"No one should fear eating poultry products as it is absolutely safe to consume Sri Lankan-produced chicken and eggs," said the minister in charge of livestock development, Chandrasiri Ratnayake, while surrounded by traditional dishes such spicy deviled chicken and chicken curry cooked in coconut sauce.

Chicken sales in Sri Lanka have dropped by around 20 percent since February when neighboring India reported an outbreak of bird flu in chicken farms, forcing hundreds of thousands of birds to be slaughtered.

Around 1 million Sri Lankans depend on the poultry industry, which accounts for about 70 percent of the island's livestock sector.

The 4 million rupee (US$38,955; Ђ 32,386) -campaign to persuade reluctant consumers to eat chicken will include radio and TV advertisements.

The World Health Organization has said there is no risk of contracting bird flu from eating well-cooked chicken.

"Normally, Sri Lankans cook the food to boiling point. At this temperature there is no way that the H5N1 virus could survive," said S.K.R. Amarasekara, the chief of the Animal Production and Health Department, reports the AP.


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