Commissary shoppers in South Korea and Japan may soon be noticing a commissary food shortage of chicken, turkey, eggs and items that contain those ingredients (like pot pies, lunch meat, hot dogs, etc.) thanks to a new embargo from the host countries on shipping those items from the U.S.
The embargo, which is totally outside the Defense Commissary Agency's control, is thanks to an avian flu outbreak in several U.S. states. Korea and Japan have banned all poultry and poultry products from entering their countries indefinitely in an effort to protect their own supplies from the disease. If you're in Korea you've probably already noticed the shortage and some price increases. If you're in Japan you are going to soon.
But that means the way DeCA usually stocks shelves in the region with those products -- by importing them -- is no longer an option. Eleven commissaries in Korea and 14 in Japan are impacted by the embargo fueled shortages. Korea has banned all fresh U.S.-based products. Japan has banned those coming from states where the Avian flu has been found (Oregon, Washington and California so far).
The commissary imports these goods to Asia (rather than sourcing them locally) for a few reasons. First, DeCA is required to meet stringent American food safety standards in its overseas stores, and many locally sourced goods don't do that. For example, eggs must be stored and sold in a chilled area, a habit that much of the world doesn't follow. Also, locally sourced goods are often more expensive -- and since DeCA currently sells items at cost without including the cost of getting them there in the sale cost calculation, buying them locally would result in passing on a higher price tag to consumers.
To work around the embargo, which has no scheduled end date and could last a long time, DeCA is taking a few steps.
-- Identify potential local providers. They've already found a few in Korea and Japan for chicken and eggs and will start stocking those items. However, that means prices for fresh chicken are going to be a lot higher -- up to 150 percent more, they said -- than patrons are used to seeing (eggs, DeCA says, will stay the same).
-- Bring in more of other meat. I know, I know -- beef and chicken are really, really not the same. Still, that might be what you have to use instead until the embargo is over. Officials said they are going to start bringing in more of other meats until they can fully stock chicken and turkey once again.
-- Ship in what they can. In Korea local officials are allowing DeCA to ship in fully cooked poultry items IF they come with certain documentation. Commissary officials are working with the manufactures of those items to put together the proper forms, they said.
Bottom line: if you are in Korea or Japan you are probably going to see shortages of poultry items and/or prices of those you do have go up.
Also, it's worth noting for the rest of us -- public health officials say that this flu is unlikely to get anyone sick.
"This is not a public health concern," said Army Col. Michael A. Buley, DeCA's director of public health and safety, in a statement from DeCA. "This virus has been around a while and there is no indication of transmission to humans. All of these importation restrictions are an attempt to protect the host nation's poultry industries."