Turkey troubles continue, alternatives on the table


PETALING JAYA: The Grinch may be rubbing its hands in glee after turkey imports from the United States were suspended because of a bird flu epidemic, threatening to dampen the year-end festive spirit.

However, the Veterinary Services Department is looking into other source countries such as Turkiye and Australia as potential suppliers in the future other than the current sole importer, the United States.

According to the department, the avian flu has hit the US turkey farming industry and there has been an import ban on turkey products since July 20.

“As of now, there is no permission to import turkeys from the country concerned (the United States) because of the epidemic.

“The department is in the process of revising the assessment risk of importing turkeys from the United States and identifying mitigation measures if import restrictions are lifted again,” it said in a statement to The Star.

The department said that in the past, some 181 metric tonnes of turkey were imported from the United States to ensure a continuous supply in the market, especially during the festive season, as local turkey production stood only at 11,987 birds in 2020.

The general manager of a restaurant chain who declined to be named said it has been badly affected, adding that its frozen turkey supply is still stuck in Port Klang pending Customs clearance.

He said it is only able to sell about 30 dishes for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year compared with 180 in 2021 – and this only because it received some stock before the import ban.

“We thought it was going to be all fine and well. We started promoting early and orders were placed as early as June and customers have also paid their deposits.

“But now, our supplier is saying that our supply is stuck in Port Klang. I’ve asked other restaurants, and they too haven’t received their supply,” he added.

He said he has received multiple texts from customers inquiring about their turkey orders.

He added that as an alternative, he would be offering capon and chicken dishes.

However, capon, which is neutered cockerel, is also low in stock as it is not a Malaysian staple.

Jean-Michel Loubatieres, a chef at Dali by Chef Jean, said the restaurant has resorted to getting its turkey from a local supplier.

However, he said, the price is 10% more expensive than frozen imported turkeys, adding that his previous supplier did not specify why it had been unable to deliver his orders.

However, Restaurant and Bistro Owners Association vice-president Jeremy Lim said so far, there has been no turkey shortage issue among its members.

He added that while turkey might be a good year-end or Christmas treat, the bird is not a staple protein source for Malaysians.

“In my opinion, the impact is not as severe as the chicken and egg shortage. We can still alternate with other proteins like roast chicken, roast beef or roast lamb,” he said.

According to a report by The Associated Press earlier this week, citing the US Agriculture Department, over 52.3 million birds in 46 states – mostly chickens and turkeys on commercial farms – have been slaughtered due to the avian flu outbreak this year.

The virus is primarily spread through the droppings or nasal discharge of wild birds as they migrate across the country, which may then contaminate dust and soil.

However, US officials said there is little risk to human health as transmission is extremely rare and infected birds are not allowed to enter the food supply.

Even if infected birds are exposed to the food supply, any virus will be killed by cooking poultry at 74°C.

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