The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has reported on the effects of the recent bird flu outbreaks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, stating that they have caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, increased trade bans and sharp price declines.

The FAO added that it expects further effects in many countries in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa this year, as unfounded fears of disease transmission reduce consumption and imports, lower domestic prices and limit production growth.

"A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per capita poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006, currently estimated at 81.8m tons, nearly 3m tons lower than the previous 2006 estimate of 84.6m tons," said FAO commodity specialist Nancy Morgan.

At the onset of avian influenza outbreaks in early 2004, falling consumption in Asia and the loss of export markets led to an 8% decline in international trade, the FAO said.

The organisation added that up until recently, international poultry prices had been driven up by over 30% because of declining exportable supplies. However, developments in 2006 "indicate a very different market environment".

"Consumption shocks are progressively lowering global import demand for broiler parts," the statement continued. "Poultry prices are expected to continue declining, threatening industry profitability around the world and household livelihood and rural employment opportunities in developing countries."

Consumption shocks in Europe range from a dramatic 70% decline in Italy in mid-February to a 20% fall in France and a 10% drop in northern Europe. In Africa, consumers in affected countries, such as Egypt and Nigeria, are moving away from poultry and egg products, while in India reports of consumption drops of 25% have caused local prices to fall by 12% to 13%. Export prices have also fallen in the US and Brazil as export demand has reduced.