To counter rumours  that the coronavirus infection is linked to consumption of poultry products, Pune-based organised meat retailer Amir Chicken and Eggs Pvt Ltd has announced a prize  of ₹5 crore to anyone who can prove that eating chicken and eggs causes  the deadly infection.

Vijay More, Managing Director of Amir Chicken, said that ever since coronavirus started spreading, a rumour had started floating that eating chicken caused  the viral infection.

This has led many to stop  consuming chicken and resulted in a 70 per cent decline in business, he said. “Therefore out of sheer desire to bust this myth, the prize money was announced on March 12. Hundreds of people called our company but none could prove the link; eating chicken meat is safe,” he said.

Amir Chicken has over 600 franchises. It also has operations in Nashik, Satara and Ahmednagar district. Every day it handles about 40,000 live birds.

More said that after the prize money was announced, the news was circulated on social media, using paid services. The company had to take this radical approach as many people have stopped buying chicken meat.

The cost of production today  is about ₹70 per kg but retail  prices have crashed to ₹10. “How can the business sustain in this environment?,” More asked. He said  the company trains youths from drought-prone areas of the State  to run franchise operations. It creates self-employment and the consumers get clean and hygienically packed meat. It is this business opportunity that is being destroyed by rumours, fake news and malicious social media posts, said More. The police have also started taking action against such fake news articles.

In Maharashtra, the poultry industry has taken a major hit due to the virus scare. Some reports have pegged the losses at about ₹700 crore due to low demand for chicken and eggs. Various associations have been demanding a bailout package for the poultry sector. In the last 10 days, several farmers and poultry-farm owners have culled their chickens and destroyed egg stocks due to fears over  the coronavirus infection.

Chairman of Arambhan Group, Alfred Arambhan told BusinessLine that until last week his group companies were buying chicken at  ₹90 per kg but today the prices have dropped to  ₹50-55. The prices of all other meats and fishes remain the same, he said.

Nashik-based broiler-farmer, Deepak Bhor said that chicken is a cash business for the farmers, which gives them immediate returns. But today there is a huge decline in the prices of the birds.