Spare a thought, if you will, for poultry farmers in India, now suffering major disruptions due to avian influenza.

The industry was hit hard a little less than a year ago by rumors that COVID-19 could be spread by eating chicken meat and eggs. Local governments and industry now find themselves, once again, having to reassure consumers of the safety of eating poultry products.

While the industry may have experienced a recovery as 2020 progressed, it experienced huge losses at the start of 2020, with demand badly hit. Now, at the start of 2021, prices for chicken meat are said to have dropped by 30% in a week, while those for eggs have declined by 10%.

While larger businesses may well have largely recovered from the COVID misinformation, those smaller farmers still in the industry are not thought to be fully back on their feet and more vulnerable to any public rejection of chicken.

India declared itself free from avian influenza in September last year, but highly pathogenic H5N8 was reported to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) earlier this month, and other strains have been mentioned by the local press. The Times of India is offering hourly updates on the disease’s progression.

Ministry support

Perhaps, mindful of the huge disruption caused by the COVID-19 rumors, the Ministry of Agriculture is encouraging states to issue “advisories on Dos and Don’ts” regarding poultry meat and egg consumption, thereby avoiding the spread of misinformation that could lead to more economic losses for poultry farmers.

Additionally, it has asked that states end the bans that some have introduced on trade in poultry products with other states. At least 10 states have confirmed outbreaks, with mysterious bird deaths being reported in other areas.

Some in the industry are confident that this current hit to the sector will be over in a couple of weeks, nevertheless, significant numbers of birds have already been culled to stop the disease spreading further.

The monsoon season in India may still be some months away, but for Indian poultry farmers it must feel as if it never rains but it pours. The press has included reports or infected birds ranging from crows to peacocks, but it is the tens of thousands of broilers and layers that are being slaughtered that will hit the industry, and consumers, in the short-term.