Eating chicken has never before taken courage and confidence, but Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin displayed both on February 9 when he had a lunch laden with poultry products in Beijing.
"Chicken has always been my favorite, so I'd like to eat more today," Du said at a canteen within the ministry compound, which also houses a national command headquarters to battle the bird flu epidemic.
Outside Beijing, suspected bird flu cases have been spotted in four new Chinese regions, said Jia Youling, a ministry spokesman on bird flu prevention and control.
New cases have been detected in Jinnan District of north China's Tianjin Municipality, Macheng of central China's Hubei Province, Anning of southwestern Yunnan Province and Huayin of northwestern Shaanxi Province.
But that wasn't about to stop Minister Du dining on delectable "kung-pao chicken" (chicken stir-fried with dry chilis and peanuts), eggs and chicken wings.
Vice-Minister Zhang Baowen, who dined with Du on Monday, said although parts of China have avian flu, poultry products available in markets are all from regions untainted by infection.
"Even products from those unaffected areas have experienced stringent checks and quarantines before shipping," said Zhang. "Therefore they are safe for consumers."
Du and his colleagues are not the only officials found in a gastronomic show of confidence aimed at boosting consumers' appetite for dining on fowl. Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang was also seen eating chicken before the cameras on February 9.
Actually, unlike the devastating SARS (severe acute aspiratory syndrome), which made people turn pale at the mention of the malady, the bird flu has failed to cause much panic among the public. That's even though sales of chicken and eggs have somewhat dropped in major supermarkets, according to store managers.
February 9's confidence-building efforts and publicity on bird flu prevention finds government and other scientific agencies hoping to draw people back to chicken delicacies, experts said.
In Beijing, many households have gotten pamphlets detailing procedures of bird flu prevention
Thanks to the publicity - and partly due to the blockade of products from bird flu-infected regions, the Beijing Chai Tai Animal Husbandry Company, a major supplier of chicken products in the capital, has seen its sales of eggs increase by 10 percent to up to 3 tons each day, company executive Wang Xincheng said.
Globally, 41 countries and regions slapped a ban on or restricted import of Chinese poultry products by February 5. South Korea, Singapore and Japan had resumed import of some Chinese poultry products.
While urging enterprises to abide by quarantine policies, China is discussing with its poultry importers expanding exports of safe products based on the principle of "respecting science and averting risks," the State General Administration for Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement.
The country has allocated 100 million yuan (US$12 million) in special funding for research into bird flu, according to the National Avian Influenza Prevention Headquarters.
(China Daily February 10, 2004)