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Industry feels avian flu hangover

Mason, Ohio — The worst of last winter's avian flu crisis may be over, but its repercussions continue to affect suppliers.

Panelists representing Europe, Asia and the international testing community at Down Lite's down, feather and fabric seminar last month said that while the current supply of feathers and down is safe, there may not be enough of it.

According to Wilford Lieber Sr., founder of the International Down & Feather Testing Laboratory (IDFL), 2004 has been a tough year for the down and feather industry.

"Avian flu caused temporary panic in the industry in Asia, Europe and North America. But the problem is over now. Down and feather products are safe," said Lieber.

However, he noted, "Two months ago, China took extraordinary measures to stop the avian flu and killed a large amount of birds," he continued. "As a result, there are 25 to 30 percent higher costs because of the 50 percent decrease in supply of down and feathers."

Stanislaw Wozniak, owner and president of EuroDown in Poland, said his company also has experienced problems with supply this year because of price increases and the 50 percent decrease in the goose population.

"In my opinion, there were not enough feathers to cover all of the orders. Now we are worried about quality because as the supply goes down, we feel some blending will occur," Wozniak said.

Meanwhile, Wendol Wu, general manager of Pacific Feather in Changhwa, Taiwan, gave a bleak prediction for the summer months.

"It is a very slow period for the breeding and growing of new birds, which means there will not be a lot of new raw material available," he explained.

Wu said there is some duck raw material becoming available now, but there are many buyers lined up to purchase a relatively small quantity. "Because demand is so high, the prices will not decrease. In fact, there is still a good possibility that prices will increase even more since summer is the peak season for the consumption of feather and down material," he added.

In addition, Wu said, the industry will face certain quality issues due to the shortage of raw material. "Because inventories are so low, many farmers will try to stretch their inventory by playing games with the quality of the raw materials," he explained, describing some of the tricks farmers might employ, such as adding more duck to goose down fills.

Wu predicted there will not be any inventory left by year's end.

"That means we start 2005 at ground zero," he said. "If business is very good in the U.S. in 2004, it is very possible that 2005 will also have high prices and tight inventory supplies."

Wu added that the other problem not to be ignored is the growth of China's domestic market.

"In 2004, the Chinese domestic market will consume 5,000 tons of raw material, which is equal to three months of raw material production," he said. "China's use of down and feathers will continue to grow and keep inventory levels very low."

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