SEOUL Feb 6 South Korea has culled two percent of its poultry population of 160 million to rein in the spread of bird flu, which is affecting an increasing number of farms, although there has been no human case, farm ministry officials said on Thursday.
Authorities said a poultry farmer had committed suicide in the province where the disease broke out, possibly out of frustration over declining sales of meat shunned by consumers fearing contamination.
"Consumption has tumbled, causing huge indirect damage to the industry, although retail prices remain almost unchanged," said an agriculture ministry source who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
The reason for the suicide has yet to be determined, he added.
South Korea's first case of H5N8 bird flu - a different strain from that which caused deaths elsewhere in Asia - was found on January 17 at a duck farm in North Jeolla, a province about 300 km (186 miles) southwest of the capital, Seoul.
Fifteen poultry farms have been hit and 19 cases of the disease have shown up in migratory birds, prompting the slaughter of 2.8 million farm birds by Wednesday, ministry data show.
Sales of chicken in one of Seoul's largest markets dropped 57 percent on average last week, the ministry official added, while egg sales fell almost 36 percent and those of duck meat nearly 79 percent, although no nationwide data were available.
"After the bird flu outbreak, I feel hesitant to eat chicken, even though I'm in Seoul," said Kim Bo-ram, a 28-year-old office worker. "Lately I think over when there's chicken on the menu and then I eat something else."
South Korea is stepping up disinfection measures for migratory birds, the suspected source of the present outbreak, at 37 sites across the country. It also curbed the movement of some livestock workers in affected areas.
South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, has had four bird flu outbreaks in the past 10 years, with no human infection reported.
A Vietnamese woman was killed by the H5N1 virus, the Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper reported on Thursday.
China in January reported 127 laboratory-confirmed cases of human infection with the H7N9 virus from the mainland, the World Health Organization said. Bird flu has killed 21 people in China so far this year, the Xinhua news agency reported last week.