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SEOUL — Acknowledging that a potentially fatal strain of avian flu has spread beyond quarantined farms, South Korean health officials are saying there’s no indication the country’s poultry shouldn’t be eaten.

Even as consumption and prices of chicken and ducks plummeted, senior government officials went so far this weekend as to invite reporters to film them dining on poultry, to prove there is no health risk.

And the South Korean supplier of locally produced, fresh poultry products to U.S. base commissaries said Monday their stocks have not been affected.

“We only process chickens from places where zero dangers have been proclaimed,” said Lee Hyong-joo, head of the Moguchon chicken processing division.

The company has supplied fresh chicken to commissaries at Yongsan Garrison, Osan Air Base and Taegu installations without incident since November 1999, Lee said. Packaging on most frozen poultry products in commissaries indicate they’re shipped from the United States.

Moguchon’s sales to U.S. bases have not been curtailed since the avian virus first was detected earlier this month, Lee said. Commissary officials referred questions to the Defense Commissary Agency regional headquarters, which couldn’t be reached for comment.

South Korean health officials say the first confirmed avian flu case was recorded Dec. 11 at a poultry farm in Chungchong province. It since has spread to at least four other provinces and infected a duck hatchery that sends baby ducks to farms nationwide.

The National Institute of Health’s Infectious Disease Control Department has identified the virus as the H5N1 strain, which killed six people in Hong Kong in 1997, said department head Chon Byong-ryul.

No human infections from the current outbreak have been reported, he stressed.

“Even if the virus is the same type, we still don’t know if it has the same genetic structure as the one reported in Hong Kong,” Chon told Stars and Stripes.

A virus sample has been sent to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; learning whether humans can contract the virus will take one month, Chon said.

While assuring that locally produced chickens and ducks are safe to eat, Chon advised consumers to cook all poultry at more than 160 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than two minutes.

“The virus dies” at that temperature, he said.

Nonetheless, worries are spreading. The agriculture ministry’s livestock quarantine section said Monday that ranchers have begun filing reports of suspected flu cases, and a temporary transport ban is in effect for poultry in the Gyongju and Naju areas.

Through Sunday, officials reported destroying and burying more than half a million chickens and ducks that might have been exposed to the virus.

The government has confirmed it will attempt to stabilize falling poultry prices by buying 2.5 million chickens and giving almost $7 million in emergency subsidies to farms in affected provinces.

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