Feathers fly as H7N9 hits China’s down industry




By Li Meijuan, Wei Hui and Li Baojie

The H7N9 bird flu epidemic, which has inflicted huge losses on China’s poultry industry, is also hitting Chinese manufacturers of down products.

The virus, which has so far killed 36 of the 130 people infected nationwide, prompted the culling of birds and the closure of poultry farms and thus cut the output of raw down feathers, sending their prices spiralling upward.

As a result, many down product producers have no choice but to idle their production capacity.

“Even if you have money, it’s not easy to buy enough duck down feathers,” said Yang Bin, chairman of Bingda Feather Co. in the city of Fengcheng in Jiangxi Province, a major down feather trading center in east China.

“Due to material shortages, our employees are working half days,” said Yang. “Our workshop used to be stuffed with raw down feathers and the workers could barely find any empty space to stand.”

Down product manufacturers in the Xiaoshan District of Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, are also feeling the chill. Nearly 70 percent of China’s raw down feathers are processed there.

Manufacturers face severe shortages of raw materials since the local government ordered them to stop purchases from regions, including Shanghai and Anhui, with a high number of H7N9 cases.

Chen Xiaoyang, a worker at the Hangzhou Hualong Eider Down Products Co., said staff used to rest only one to two days a month, lured by the overtime pay. However, now they have about one week off per month on average. As a result, many workers earn 1,000 yuan (about 160 U.S. dollars) less a month, said employee Han Danhong.

Yang Cheng, chairman of Chenglong Eider Down Products Co. in Jiangxi, said the materials shortage has prompted the company to halt production since late April. With more than 100 workers, it churned out products valued at 180 million yuan last year.

The shortage has sent prices of down feathers skyrocketing and the cost could ultimately be transferred to customers through higher priced down products, experts have warned.

“A butcher shop contacted me saying that the price for the down feathers of a white duck was 3.1 yuan. I wasn’t willing to pay that price since a year ago the price was only half as much,” said Yang Cheng.

“Price hikes are beyond imagination and such prices have not been seen in decades,” added the company chairman.

“The more we buy, the greater losses we will suffer,” said Chen Xuehui, chairman of Xinhui Eider Down Products Co. He said that when the company signed product orders before February, the price of down feathers was 300,000 yuan a tonne. Now, the price has doubled.

“We’re using the inventory and buying a small amount of new down feathers to cope with the orders to be delivered in July,” said Chen. “For the remaining orders, we have to wait. Based on current costs, we will suffer a loss of millions of yuan.”

Lu Yifeng, president of Hangzhou Hualong Eider Down Products Co., said that most of the firm’s orders were signed last year: “If we fulfill them, we will face losses. If we wish to avoid the losses, we have to breach the contracts, but then our business reputation will be damaged. This is a dilemma.”

(Photo by Zhou Ke)




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