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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
Fowl flu takes nuggets off the menu
McDonald's Japan president Den Fujita
Mr Fujita is to step down at the end of this month
Japanese branches of McDonald's are having to pull chicken from the menu, following an outbreak of bird flu in the US.

Almost all the fast food chain's outlets in Japan are withdrawing Chicken McNuggets as stocks run out.

Imports of US chickens were banned by the government on 18 March following an outbreak of bird flu in Virginia.

But although the ban has been lifted for all but three states, birds from Virginia - the source for almost all McDonald's poultry in Japan - remain off limits.

Also at risk are two menu items unique to outlets in Japan, the Chicken Tatsuta and the Teriyaki McBurger.

The move comes at a bad time for McDonald's, which has seen burger sales suffer from fears over mad cow disease.

Proof

While fowl flu is normally not a problem for humans, Japanese people are not in the mood these days to accept assurances of safety that easily.

The slow response of both business and the government in dealing with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or "mad cow disease") has produced calls for the agriculture minister's resignation.

A government panel criticised the administration's handling of the outbreak, saying it ignored warnings and could have saved consumers months of worry and the food industry billions in lost sales.

It has also triggered the bankruptcy of Snow Brand, one of the biggest food and dairy companies in Japan, after the firm admitted to relabelling beef to obtain government anti-BSE subsidies.

Striking twice

With this experience, the fact that Hong Kong has slaughtered 1.4 million chickens after a virus similar to the one in Virginia crossed over and killed six people is likely to be of concern to the Japanese public.

And assurances from the World Health Organisation that only live birds can pass on the illness will cut little ice.

A McDonald's spokesman said it hoped to restart nugget sales in April, once it could source birds from elsewhere such as China.

"While there may be some people who won't come to our shops because of the lack of chicken nuggets, others may not feel that way and will buy our other products," said McDonald's Japan spokesman Kenji Kaniya.

Another health scare could be a major blow to McDonald's.

Thanks to the BSE experience and the slowing economy, the chain has decided to close 130 outlets this year while opening just 220, well below the previous pace of expansion.

Turnover at McDonald's has sunk every month since late last year as a result of sliding burger sales.

See also:

18 Mar 02 | Business
McDonald's Japan steps on the brakes
24 Jan 02 | Business
McDonald's earnings fall
22 Jan 02 | UK
How Ronald got le boot
16 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Blast rocks Chinese McDonald's
17 Oct 01 | Business
McDonald's launches shake-up
24 Jul 01 | Business
McDonald's hit by mad-cow fears
26 Jul 01 | Business
Sizzling start for McDonald's Japan
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