I once read the restaurant industry in the US (and probably elsewhere) is one of the highest mortality businesses around. About half of new restaurants don’t make it through the first year. It is a tough business, long hours, low wages for most. Immigrant labor is common.
Some restaurants do very well for their owners, but most don’t. The industry is always looking over its shoulder at the next problem and their are many. In the US, immigration reform, paying (or trying to avoid paying) health insurance for workers, fending off legislative attempts to force them to pay even half a living wage to their workers, the fear (although not the reality) of lawsuits over unhealthy food they dole out which sickens and fattens their customers. Lots of worries on their plate (so to speak).
It turns out, however, the one currently at the top of their worry list is bird flu.
The restaurant industry will face a slew of issues during the next year, but none has owners and operators more nervous than one they’ve never experienced before: avian flu.
Concerns about a possible bird-flu outbreak were raised by speakers and participants at the National Restaurant Association convention in Chicago this spring.
The potential of a pandemic was on the mind of the convention’s surprise keynote speaker, President Bush.
According to news reports, the president said the federal government has a strategy in place for a bird-flu outbreak in the United States, but he added that, “Whether or not it would work to perfection, you hope you never have to find out.” (Barnet Wolf in his weekly column on the restaurant industry, Columbus Post Dispatch)
I don’t think the President has anything to worry about. His US Department of Agriculture is not likely to find out. At least according to the Department’s own Inspector General:
The Bush administration lacks a comprehensive plan for testing and monitoring bird flu in commercial poultry, a federal audit says.
The industry is testing every flock for bird flu, but the tests are voluntary and there is no method for reporting findings to the government, the Agriculture Department’s inspector general said Tuesday.
As a result, the department does not know the extent of surveillance being done and is not gathering consistent data that would indicate whether the deadly Asian strain of bird flu is present or how widespread it is.
‘The federal government continues to push the responsibility of finding and responding to a possible outbreak of avian influenza on states,’ [Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the Senate Agriculture Committee's senior Democrat] said. ‘As a result, USDA does not have a comprehensive national plan for surveillance and monitoring of poultry flocks and states lack adequate federal resources to respond to potential avian influenza outbreaks.’ (AP)
Somebody should tell the restaurant moguls. One less thing to worry about.