Seen as further damaging chances of recovery

Latha Venkataraman

Mumbai, March 15

Yet another outbreak of avian influenza, this time at Jalgaon in Maharashtra, has come as a dampener to the poultry industry, which was getting back on track after a major crisis.

"This outbreak could further damage our chances of recovery," said Mr Bharat Tandon, Chairman, Compound Live Stock Feed Manufacturers Association of India. "We have to learn to live with it," he said.

The losses to the entire industry after the first outbreak of avian influenza would be Rs 4,000-5,000 crore.

Following the first outbreak of avian influenza, retail sales of poultry products are yet to pick up even as institutional sales have commenced. "The defence services, railways and airlines have put back chicken on their menu but unless retail sales pick up, profit margins would remain severely under pressure for the industry," said Mr Tandon.

"The industry is just about on the road to recovery though prices have not picked up," said an official of Venkateshwara Group.

Retail sales of poultry products account for the bulk of sales, though institutional sales have helped an improvement in offtake to a certain extent.

"The poultry industry has been severely impacted by the outbreak of the avian influenza. Many of the small farmers would be hit badly as they have not been able to cover their cost of production," said Mr Tandon. The bigger farms may be able to edge back as volumes help where margins are thin.

Prices, which had fallen as much as 40-50 per cent, have edged up but are still far from their normal prices. "With this Jalgaon episode, prices could fall," Mr Tandon said. As Jalgaon is not a high-density area, chances of the disease spreading could be low.

Educating farmers

Meanwhile, the poultry industry is stepping up efforts to educate farmers on bio-security measures.Faced with bleak prospects, following the outbreak of avian influenza, farmers, including those involved in backyard poultry, are being forced to take bio-security measures seriously, industry representatives said. The big poultry firms are asking their farmers to step up bio-security measures, Mr Tandon said.Although the industry claims that bio-security measures have been implemented quite stringently, at the field level there are indications that the birds are kept in unhygienic conditions that could lead to spread of diseases.However, there has been no transmission of the flu to humans so far, said Dr Vijay Satbir Singh, Secretary, Public Health Department, Maharashtra Government.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 16, 2006)
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