Chicken sale in some parts of the state has fallen by 30 to 50 per cent, say farmers
The wide coverage given by the media to the study on antibiotics in chicken meat, carried out by Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), seems to have upset the poultry industry in the southern state of Kerala. Organisations of poultry farmers and meat merchants have issued statements protesting against the study released last week.
The findings of the study reveal that large-scale unregulated use of antibiotics in the poultry industry in the country could spell danger for consumers who could develop resistance to antibiotics. There are chances that they also fall prey to many other diseases. Sample testing of chicken meat by CSE showed that a high 40 per cent samples contained antibiotic residues.
"This is a false campaign," said a statement issued Tuesday by Baiju Kadavan, president of the All-Kerala Poultry Farmers' Association. The study will seriously affect about 200,000 poultry farmers in the state, says the statement. The samples were taken from Delhi and examined in a private laboratory, and it's not authentic, the association alleged. It has urged that the study should be discarded and that it would initiate legal action against CSE "for spreading baseless campaigns".
The statement has also slammed the Central government for directing the state governments to follow- up the findings of the study "without even bothering to find out whether the sample analysis done by a private laboratory is authentic". According to the association, the study was undertaken by CSE under the pressure of different lobbies.
In Thrissur, a central-Kerala district, the All Kerala Poultry Farmers and Traders Committee said in a press conference that CSE's report was baseless. The organisation said all farmers who are members of the organisation were ready to cooperate with investigations by any government agency.
Kerala produces about 132 million poultry chicken a year, and sells about 2 million kg of chicken meat a day. Till three
years ago the state has been buying about 60 per cent of its requirement from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. However, in the past three years, a lot of people have started poultry farming in small and big way.
Study not the only factor for fall in sales
According to S K Naseer, chicken dealer and state general secretary of All Kerala Poultry Federation, the CSE study has affected the sales of chicken meat in the state. There used to be an average sale of 600,000 to 800,000 kg chicken a day in the southern parts of the state, but the sales have fallen by more than 50 per cent, he said. However, he added that CSE's study could not be the sole reason for the fall. Torrential rains post Eid slowed down consumption of chicken meat and many Hindu families are avoiding meat in the month of “karkitaka”, a time when Ramayana is recited at homes. "I used to sell 5,000 kg a day. It has come down to 1,000-1,500 kg," said Naseer.
In central Kerala, chicken meat sales have registered a fall of about 30 per cent, said farmers. About 450,000 kg of chicken meat was sold daily in the central districts. "Antibiotics is given to the birds in a very small quantities only in the first seven days as a precaution against diseases. Then vaccinations are given two times," said a big poultry farmer who preferred not to be identified by name. He produces about 500,000 chickens a year. "As far as I know, nobody is giving antibiotics for making the birds grow faster and fatter as the CSE study says," he said.
Another factor that might have added to the poultry farmers' woes, is the ongoing strike by the crushers operators in the quarry
sector. "There are about 5 million migrant labourers in Kerala, who used to buy meat. For the time being, a majority of them are unable to afford chicken meat," he added.
'Chicken fed tulsi, garlic'
CSE's study has not affected northern Kerala much, especially
Malappuram and Kozhikode districts, which are way ahead of other districts in chicken consumption. "So far the study has not affected either the sales or prices," said P K Kunjimon, chicken
merchant and state president of the All Kerala Chicken Merchants
Association. He said more than 600,000 kg of chicken meat is sold in the region. "We generally give garlic and tulsi juice to the birds for common diseases like cold. And for other diseases, we go by what veterinary doctors advise," he said.
The poultry farmers, traders, and retailers urged the state government to immediately take action to allay the fears created by the media highlighting CSE study and protect the sector. "The state health and animal husbandry departments must take necessary action to strictly monitor the poultry farms in the state and chicken brought in from the neighbouring states. If they are engaged in unethical practices as pointed out in the study, they must be stopped immediately because all of us are concerned about health issues," said Kunjimon.
Food safety concerns
Health activists expressed a different concern. "Media will soon stop highlighting the issue," said George Paul, a health activist from Kunnamkulam in Thrissur district, who works on food safety and food security. Already, pacifying messages like—“It is a Delhi-sample based report, so we are safe”—is being spread, he added. "The issue at hand is much bigger than just chicken meat. World over, animal husbandry practices need regulation and strict monitoring and enforcement," he said.
CSE deputy director general, Chandra Bhushan, while responding to the allegations and complaints of poultry farmers, had this to say: "CSE has tested the chicken samples in its own laboratory and the details of the tests are in the public domain for scrutiny. Our intention is not to hurt the industry but to protect public health. What we are doing will save the family members of the poultry farmers as well. We believe that the poultry industry can grow without overusing and misusing antibiotics."
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