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Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Bird flu drives chicken from Kansai menus


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Chicken was off the menu in many parts of the Kansai region Monday following reports that meat from chickens infected with the bird flu virus had been sold in the area's restaurants and supermarkets.

Many restaurants in the Nakanoshima district of Osaka replaced their regular chicken teriyaki lunch sets with beef, ham or seafood, despite assurances by the Osaka Municipal and Prefectural governments that no one has yet gotten sick from eating the meat of infected birds.

"No chicken, not for a while," said Mika Yoshimura, who runs a small cafe and restaurant near Osaka City Hall. "I don't care what the government says, we're keeping it off the menu indefinitely."

Lines at fast-food restaurants were noticeably shorter than usual in the Umeda district. Several branches of both McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken posted notices that their chicken was safe.

But many who say they ordinarily eat out for lunch have decided to eat in, at least for the time being.

"I used to go to a fast-food restaurant almost every day, but between the mad cow disease in American beef and the bird flu, it's just safer to bring your own lunch rather than risk eating at a fast-food restaurant," said Sayuri Honjo, 21, a part-time worker in Umeda.

Local governments in Kyoto, Hyogo, Shiga and Osaka prefectures have set up emergency task forces to check stores and restaurants to learn if they had purchased meat that originated at Asada Nosan Funai Nojo farm in Kyoto Prefecture, and were providing regular updates on their investigation.

Area supermarkets also were attempting to reassure consumers. Kansai Super, a chain with 51 stores in the region, set up a special hotline to handle customer calls, and staff were on hand to answer questions about the chicken being sold.

Other supermarkets were taking similar measures, but customers were not convinced.

"We're not selling a lot of chicken today," said a spokesman for the Sakae supermarket in Suita, just north of Osaka.



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