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    Ertugrul Ozkok: Chicken questions for someone in the know

    Hürriyet Haber
    25.10.2005 - 09:46 | Son Güncelleme:

    Are you one of those who, like me, think that in the last few years, chicken meat has gone downhill? You know, one of those who remembers wistfully the "farm-raised chickens of yesteryear"?

    Well, actually, let's start from a more urgent questioning point here: Should we or should we not be eating chicken meat?

    ***
    Yesterday I had the chance to speak with one of Turkey's foremost chicken meat producers.

    A group of 17 large companies have come together to form the "Healthy Chicken Information Platform."

    A full 80% of the chicken meat in Turkey comes from these companies.

    Let me give you a few statistics from the "chicken economy" in Turkey:

    Poultry meat production is at the level of one million tons per year.
     
    While per capita consumption of chicken in Turkey was at 3.83 kilos in 1990, by 2004, it had risen to 13.27 kilo.
     
    This of course also means an incredible increase in the consumption of protein.

    And this could be seen as the success of the use of modern techniques in chicken production by the big poultry meat companies.
     
    Annual sales of poultry meat in Turkey are around 2 billion dollars.
     
    And you have to add to this the annual 600 million dollars in eggs sold.

    The sector employs 200 thousand people.

    If you calculate the feed producers, families, and other connected to the sector, this number reaches 2 million people.

    ***

    Chicken producers give us some information that might have escaped us amidst all the clamor.

    Up until now, there has not been a single case of bird flu in humans caught from chicken meat in Turkey.
     
    While in the far east, cases of bird flu are still occuring.
     
    Over the past years in Thailans, cases of bird flu have been discovered in 2 thousand different places.

    Despite everything done to control it, they have still only been able to bring this figure down to 20; so in 20 different spots in Thailand, there are still cases of bird flu popping up.

    But let's look at the really striking fact:

    Thailand today continues with its chicken exports to Europe.
     
    And chicken remains a favorite food on far east menus and in kitchens.

    ***

    And when it comes to Europe, which for days made the discovery of a single case of bird flu in Turkey the number one news:

    Over past years, cases of bird flu where found in three different European countries.

    These countries are Holland, Germany, and Italy.
     
    And on top of this, the bird flu cases in these countries were found in closed production centers, not open markets.
     
    But Europeans continue to consume chicken meat.

    ***

    So what is the situation in Turkey?
     
    Immediately after the discovery of one case of bird flu, chicken meat consumption fell by 90 points to 10%.

    2 million chickens a day are slaughtered in Turkey.

    Of these, 95% enter freezers.

    Going up little by little, consumption today is at 60-65%.

    But it is more focused on pre-cooked rather than raw meat now.

    ***

    Now, when it comes to the question of what precautions can be taken.....

    Chicken producers list three precautions:

    One: The government must ban chicken production in wetlands that attract bird migrations.

    Two: The sale of live chickens in markets must be prevented.
     
    Three: The transport of live chickens between cities should be carefully controlled.

    ***

    Which brings us back to my original dreamier question:
     
    Is it me, or has chicken meat gone bad somehow?
     
    No, it hasn't gone bad, but the taste has changed.

    Because nowadays, less fatty chicken is being produced. This has to do with changes in diet and nutrition over the last years.

    And then there's the question of hormones, which is denied strongly by the chicken producers:
     
    "Definitely not possible. First of all, it is not economic to give chickens hormones. Also, the government watches all import of hormones."

    The result:

    You can be at ease consuming packaged chicken from the supermarket.

    At the end of our conversation, the Healthy Chicken Information Platform representative says this to me:
     
    "In your Saturday column, you praised the Balikesir Governor for acting quickly. It is true. But the Agriculture Ministry is also worthy of praise on this subject. They really acted fast and appropriately during this all."
     

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