bird flu china
Employees dispose of uninfected dead birds at a treatment plant as part of preventive measures against the H7N9 bird flu in Guangzhou in the Guangdong province of China April 16, 2013. Reuters

It’s a crisis that pits the public’s need to know vs. protecting the profitability of an industry.

In a recent article by the trade publication World Poultry, poultry producers in China are deeply concerned about the media coverage of the outbreak of bird flu in the country. That coverage has already been blamed for severe profit losses amounting to about 20 billion yuan, and has even been responsible for some company bankruptcies.

The situation is serious enough to cause more than 1,000 industry executives in the National Association of Poultry Farmers to appeal to health authorities in China. In the letter they requested that they “stop reporting individual cases” of bird-flu outbreaks and to avoid “excessively detailed reports” on current cases.

While it remains to be seen what kind of effect this lobbying effort will have nationally, it already appears to be making an impact in the province of Guangdong, on China's southern coast, where health officials have recently stopped volunteering reports on latest infections, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.

The poultry sector in China employs about 70 million people in China and constitutes about one-fourth of the country's agricultural output. In 2012, revenues from the sector totaled 689 billion yuan, according to data provided by the China Livestock Information Network.