Although the deadly H5N1 avian influenza has yet to spread to the US, poultry exports have slumped as demand in countries affected by the disease has declined, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Friday (10 March).

The USDA's update on world market conditions, published monthly, re-evaluated its December prediction of export levels for 2006, reducing the figure by 5.3% to 5.3bn pounds.

Many consumers in countries where bird flu has struck are choosing to steer clear of poultry and poultry products, despite reassurances from health organisations that meat poses no risk if properly cooked.

This bodes badly for the US poultry industry given that about one-third of leg and thigh cuts are sold abroad. The wholesale price of these cuts has plummeted to US$0.14 cents per pound.

Adding to the industry's troubles, the USDA has warned it is not a question of if but when bird flu will reach the US. Many scientists have predicted that H5N1 will be carried into the US by birds migrating from Asia to Alaska in the spring.