The Indian poultry industry has almost crashed amid fears linking the spread of COVID-19 to chicken consumption.
In just one month, chicken sales in India have dropped more than 50 per cent and prices by 70 per cent as consumers grow wary of eating meat products amid the coronavirus pandemic.
To make matters worse for these meat businesses, there have been several messages and posts going viral on social media that state that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through consumption of chicken.
Valued at ₹1 trillion, the poultry industry has been hit hard since India is the second largest producer of eggs and fourth largest producer of chicken.
“A lot of misleading posts on social media, especially on WhatsApp, have created a false impression that humans can contract the coronavirus through chickens,” said Godrej Agrovet Managing Director B.S. Yadav to reporters.
Sales of the birds have declined from 75 million about four weeks ago to around 40 million birds a week, he added.
The Union Minister of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries Giriraj Singh admitted the poultry industry was losing Rs 1,500-2,000 crore daily.
Along with chickens, the cost of eggs has also dropped considerably.
In addition, the crisis is impacting farmers growing soya and maize. Since the poultry industry is the main consumer of these crops and with chicken production declining, sales of these crops have been hit as well.
The unprecedented decline in sales have led farmers to either kill the birds alive or resort to distress selling.
On March 8, Somnath Shelke, a poultry farmer in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar, drove 3,000 live birds to a patch of land next to his farm and buried all the chickens in a deep hole dug by an excavator.
“I sprinkled salt over the soil after so it doesn’t smell,” he said.
Shelke said he had to take the desperate measure since he couldn’t afford keeping them alive with no takers.
Fearing backlash, he refuted the action a few days later.
“There have been police complaints filed against farmers killing chicken around here, so many are afraid of admitting it,” said K.B. Gangavane, a local coordinator with a Pune-based poultry company.
“It’s like, you can’t afford to keep them, nor are you allowed to kill them.”
The virus that reportedly originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China has now spread to at least 177 countries and territories and killed more than 16,500 people globally.
The COVID-19 causing virus is only transmitted from person to person via respiratory droplets when an infected person breathes out, coughs or sneezes. It can also spread via contaminated surfaces such as door handles, knobs, or railings.
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