The Japanese food industry has been hit hard by the recent outbreaks of bird flu across Asia, as manufacturers face supply shortages of chicken.

Chinese and Thai chicken, imports of which have been banned by the Japanese government amid the current bird flu crisis, account for 17% of poultry consumption in Japan, reported Agence France Presse.

Food processors and restaurant chains have been stunned by the import bans, which came just a few weeks after Japan placed a ban on imports of US beef following the discovery of a case of mad cow disease, or BSE, in Washington state.

Many restaurants had replaced beef on their menus with chicken in a bid to maintain consumer confidence, but now face extra costs to procure chicken that is not from Thailand or China.

A spokesman from Japanese frozen food firm Nichirei described the poultry import ban as a “severe blow” and said quite a lot of the poultry it uses comes from China and Thailand.

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“It costs more to use domestically grown chicken,” he told AFP.

Japan’s largest beef-bowl restaurant chain, Yoshinoya, had introduced a “yakitori bowl” as an alternative to its traditional beef menu offering following the ban on US beef, but said the chicken it used in the new dish was 80% Chinese and 20% Thai.

A spokesman for the company said it had not decided what to do as regards future chicken procurement, AFP reported.

The Japanese unit of US fastfood chain McDonald’s said it had placed orders for processed chicken nuggets from the US and Mexico to replace Thai and Chinese poultry products. Around 46% of McDonald’s Japan’s chicken nuggets come from China, while 37% are from Thailand.

Meanwhile Brazil is seeking to boost its exports of chicken and beef to Japan in order to capitalise on the shortfall, reported Reuters.

A delegation of government officials and private-sector leaders from Brazil have been visiting Japan in a bid to emphasis the safety of the country’s products.
“We understand the safety concerns of the Japanese government…and are ready to meet those concerns when increasing our exports,” Masao Tadano, Brazil’s Secretary for Animal Health and Plant Protection at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Brazil is already one of Japan’s main poultry suppliers but exports only processed beef to Japan.

The Brazilian delegation also plans to visit South Korea and Taiwan.