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03/04/02 . AP World Business . Yahoo News . TOKYO  
McDonald's Japan suspends Chicken McNuggets sales after fowl flu  
McDonald's has suspended sales of its popular Chicken McNuggets at nearly all outlets in Japan following the outbreak of a fowl epidemic in some parts of the United States, the company said Wednesday.  

McDonald's Japan spokesman Kenji Kaniya said the measure was a precautionary step taken largely because the chain ran out of chicken stock. McDonald's Japan will resume sales once an alternate supply is found, possibly as early as later this month.

The bird illness normally poses no threat to humans.

But a similar chicken virus crossed over to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, killing six people and sickening dozens. That outbreak, dubbed the "bird flu," forced Hong Kong authorities to slaughter all the territory's 1.4 million chickens.

The World Health Organization has since determined people can only contract the illness from live birds, not their processed meat, Health Ministry official Kensuke Nakajima said.

McDonald's and the Health Ministry say there have been no reports of bird-flu from people who have eaten Chicken McNuggets in Japan.

Kaniya said McDonald's began suspending sales after the Japanese government banned all U.S. chicken imports March 18 in the wake of a fowl flu outbreak in Virginia.

On March 29, the government lifted the ban for all states except Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maine, after deeming products from other regions safe, Agriculture Ministry official Yoko Sasada said.

But nearly 90 percent of the McDonald's 3,800 restaurants in Japan have stopped selling Chicken McNuggets to date because McDonald's Japan had imported the bulk of its chicken meat from Virginia.

A handful of restaurants still offer the item because a trickle of chicken meat is available from markets unaffected by the bird flu, Kaniya said.

The McNuggets suspension is the latest blow to McDonald's Japan, which is half-owned by McDonald's Corp. of the United States.

The Japanese company has also been hammered by tumbling sales since the outbreak of mad cow disease. Japan has reported three cases of mad cow disease since September, spurring many consumers to shun beef products.

Japan currently bans imports of some poultry products, including ducks, geese and quail's eggs, from China, in a measure to prevent the possible spread of the bird flu, the Agriculture Ministry's Sasada said.  
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