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Bird flu loss: Down by Rs 9,000 crore
[April 25, 2006]

Bird flu loss: Down by Rs 9,000 crore

(Times of India, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Apr. 21--NEW DELHI -- Maharashtra apparently still isn't digging into chicken and egg. Other parts of the country are slowly getting back to poultry dishes which gave menus a busy look before the bird flu outbreak forced a desertion.

But people are still tentative, a little confused. Two months after the bird flu outbreak was announced here, a section of the poultry industry, down Rs 9,000-crore, wants the government to step in more actively and build consumer confidence.

They will also do so on their own to speed the early signs of recovery -- some say it's across the country, others say it's everywhere but Maharashtra, home to the outbreak.

"The correct information hasn't been reaching consumers," says Venkateswara Hatcheries CEO O P Singh. On the one hand, government would say eating well-cooked chicken and eggs was safe but then, Parliament, Railways and the airlines stopped serving these.

"Don't we wash vegetables or boil our milk?" asks Singh of other precautions people have internalised. Poultry industry consultant Amit Sachdev says the recovery, a few days old, isn't showing up in Maharashtra.

Singh, however, says consumption is back to 65 percent of its usual across the country but prices haven't recovered fully. Split down the middle, the Rs 35,000-crore poultry industry is still counting losses.

The last estimate from the Poultry Federation of India was Rs 200 crore a day, including losses suffered by input suppliers, transporters, pharma and others. On Thursday, the National Egg Coordination Committee (NECC) put the direct figure at Rs 9,000 crore.

It's not just people, bombarded with contradictory nuggets of information, who are hesitant in their move back to poultry. Even farmers are, says Sachdev.

Since the outbreak was confirmed February 18, farmers on the financial road to hell have killed or starved birds so they don't have to feed them or deal with the eggs hatched. It costs to feed the bird; it costs to keep the eggs in cold storage.

The farmer is still on tenterhooks since samples are being taken even from places where bird flu hasn't been reported -- but the result comes much later. "There may still be ups and downs in the production cycle in the next couple of weeks," says Sachdev.

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