Swine flu outbreak puts food and airline sectors on alert

The outbreak of swine flu in Mexico has hit airline and travel companies, with shares falling in British Airways and Carnival Group Cruises, and there is concern that the pork industry may also suffer.

Soy and corn prices in the US have already fallen following fears the flu outbreak could lead to a drop in demand for pork products, which would in turn have an impact on sales of animal feed.

The National Pig Association (NPA), the peak lobby group for the pig industry, says it is monitoring developments but at this stage there is no cause for alarm.

NPA managing director, Barney Kay, says while it does not have any immediate plans to launch a reassurance campaign to encourage consumers to keep eating pork, it will review the situation and any changes in public perceptions “in the next day or two”.

The Food Standards Agency has released a statement saying the swine flu outbreak in Mexico and the US “does not pose a food safety risk to consumers”.

“Swine flu has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and cooked pork and pork products,” the FSA says.

But there are concerns that reality may not be reflected in changes to consumer perceptions, and that this may soon have an impact on sales of pork products.

Avian flu scares in the past have seen sales of poultry drop, albeit for a short period.

In the travel and tourism industries news of the flu outbreak saw shares in companies such as BA fall 8.4%, while Carnival fell 7.5%. Shares also fell for Cathay Pacific and Qantas.

In contrast, the pharmaceutical industry has seen some growth, with shares in Roche, which makes anti-flu drug Tamiflu, rising by 4%. GlaxoSmithKline, which manufactures anti-flu drug Relenza, similarly saw a 3% rise.

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