It's certainly been in the news enough-- even the focus of a made-for-TV movie-- yet, North Americans generally don't understand avian flu concerns, what it means or what it could mean. There is, however, a general awareness of the topic, according to a recent survey.

Synovate, a research firm, conducted an online survey, reaching more than 1,600 Americans and Canadians, all of whom had visited quick-service restaurants in the preceding four weeks, reports Meatingplace.com.

The survey shows that both Americans and Canadians are concerned about avain flu reaching their country. "Our research shows that if bird flu appears in North America, more than one in three patrons in the United States and Canada claim they would reduce or stop their out-of-home dining," says Edward Murphy, Synovate senior vice president. "An equal proportion are unsure about how the news would sway their dining intentions."

People's reactions certainly could impact pork and beef consumption. "I don't expect (North American) consumers to panic about bird flu like consumers in Europe," says Paul Aho, a poultry industry analyst.

Steve Meyer, agricultural economist, says consumers' reaction is a big unknown. He sees three scenarios: it could be a non issue, it negative for poultry, it could be negative for all meat demand. He points to media coverage on avian flu as being pretty factual so far. Also, the public and the government has learned much from the BSE episodes. Also, there's a general openness by the poultry industry on the issue of avian flu, its concerns and strategies.

"I think if AI came into the United States, the action will be quick and aggressive," says Aho.

The survey showed, that consumers aren't so sure. One quarter of Canadians and only 15 percent of Americans think their country is well prepared to handle an avian-flu pandemic, notes Meatingplace.com.

Regardless of the actions, North American poultry exports would be shut down for at least a while, placing a lot more chicken on the domestic markets. Pork and beef could benefit from a consumer buying shift, or the meats could suffer from cheap and abundant chicken. Certainly if more consumers stop eating out, all meats would lose some portion of sales.

According to the survey, 10 percent of Americans and 13 percent of Canadians have sought information on avian flu. 

The online survey was conducted in April and the sample size from each country was comparable, with 821 American respondents and 826 in Canada.

Synovate, Meatingplace.com