The outbreak of novel coronavirus in China and the fears associated with it are seen impacting India’s poultry sector, which saw a decline in the off-take of chicken meat in the past couple of weeks. As a result, farmgate price of chicken have dropped, hurting farmers’ earnings.

Social media platforms such as WhatsApp and YouTube are rife with rumours and fake news of chicken being infected with coronavirus, players said. The impact of rumours is such that the government had to intervene last week to allay the fears. The Animal Husbandry Ministry has said that poultry was not found to be involved in the transmission of coronavirus to humans in any report globally.

“Some vested interests are spreading fake news on social media about chicken and coronavirus, while there is absolutely no connection between the two,” said Sushant Rai, President of Karnataka Poultry Farmers & Breeders Association (KSFBA). Such scaremongering and misinformation campaign are not only depriving consumers of protein-rich food, but also impacting the livelihood of millions of farmers dependent on the poultry sector, Rai said, adding that consumption is down by about 30 per cent in the State.

For the poultry sector, which reeled under the impact of high feed costs last year due to surge in maize prices, the coronavirus dealt an indirect blow at the beginning of the year. This could prolong the recovery in the poultry sector, despite the prices of maize, the key ingredient in poultry feed, having come down by about a fourth over last year’s levels.

The impact of coronavirus on consumption is being felt more in the western parts of the country, said B Soundarajan, Managing Director, Suguna Holdings Pvt Ltd, a large poultry player. Consumption is down 10-15 per cent, he said.

For the sector as such, the price pressure is expected to continue in the absence of any growth in consumption. The poultry industry is valued at around ₹90,000 crore and employs over four million people directly or indirectly.

While the cost of production of chicken is about ₹80 a kg at the farmgate, prices have come down to about ₹35-40 in the west, while in other places, prices are ruling at ₹55-60 akg, industry players said. However, the retail prices have largely remained unchanged, indicating that traders and suppliers could be taking advantage of the situation to drive down prices.