Bihar meat-sellers rue drop in Holi sales amid coronavirus rumours

The animal husbandry ministry has been trying to dispel rumours connecting meat-eating and virus outbreak

By C K Manoj
Published: Monday 09 March 2020

Poultry, mutton and fish trade has been severely hit in Bihar amid rumours that their consumption could cause coronavirus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) had recently declared COVID-19 as ‘public health emergency of international concern’.

Till March 9, 2020, 109 countries were affected by the disease. In India, 43 confirmed cases have been reported so far — but none from Bihar. However, many in the state have switched to eating vegetarian food. As a result, chicken and mutton shops are witnessing poor or no footfall.

“We usually increase mutton and chicken price during Holi. But there are only a few takers this time and we have had to lower the price. Rumours that consumption of eggs and chicken may infect people has destroyed the business,” said Munna Khan, who runs a chicken shop in Patna.

Mohammad Nasim Khan, who runs a mutton shop in Patna’s Raja bazaar, said: “Demand of mutton fell drastically in a fortnight.”

“Business has been tough for the last few years. Diseases such as avian influenza, swine flu and coronavirus have frequently destroyed our business,” said Manoj Kumar, another meat-seller.

Even jackfruit was costlier than chicken this Holi. Over the past one week, the price of chicken has plummeted by Rs 50-60 in the state. On March 9, 2020, the chicken was being sold for Rs 80 a kg, against jackfruit which was available at Rs 100 a kg.

Meanwhile, the animal husbandry ministry has been urging people to consume non-vegetarian food.

According to Union Minister for Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Giriraj Singh: “Poultry, fish and meat are safe for consumption. Coronavirus does not affect them.” The minister had been frequently taking to Twitter in this regard.

He also warned of protein deficiency if people avoided eating non-vegetarian food for long. “The only thing you should follow is cleanliness. You should consume meat after cooking it properly,” the minister said.

To dispel rumours, the minister tweeted letters by joint secretary, animal husbandry ministry, OP Chaudhary. On March 5, 2020, he wrote:

 It has come to the notice of this department that messages are spreading through the social, print and electronic media stating that consumption of eggs and chicken meat may spread coronavirus infection to the human being. This kind of message has created panic amongst the poultry farmers, industries and consumers.” 

He added that millions of maize and soya farmers, along with medicines and vaccine manufacturers are also involved in the poultry sector. “Hence, any panic related to poultry consumption will destroy livelihood of millions of people. Consumers would be deprived of a cheap source of protein,” he said.

“So far, it has been noticed that the predominant route of transmission of novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) is human interaction. The virus is transmitted via human-to-human interaction, as per World Animal Health Organization,” Dr Chaudhary said.

The animal husbandry minister also tweeted a press statement by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI), which said the imported food was also safe from coronavirus.

“Food imported from coronavirus-affected countries is safe for human consumption. FSSAI has constituted a committee of experts to examine the possibilities of presence of the virus in imported food items. According to its report, there is no conclusive evidence for transmission of coronavirus through food,” the statement said.

However, it advised people to avoid consumption of raw or undercooked meat as well as unprocessed food products. It warned people to consume frozen food items only after properly cooking them. 

Bihar has set up the rapid response teams (RRT) in all 38 districts to tackle the virus. It is the first Indian state to do so.

“Teams have been given adequate training to tackle any such case,” state surveillance officer Ragini Mishra told Down to Earth.

Mishra added that blood samples of 51 suspects have been collected so far and sent for testing. “None has been tested positive so far. But we have increased surveillance and are keeping a close watch,” she said.

According to Bihar’s State Health Society, the state has strengthened surveillance and control measures against the disease.

“At least 128 passengers who returned from coronavirus-affected countries after January 15, 2020 were identified by state surveillance system and quarantined at home. Of them, 67 were released after completion of the 14-day isolation period,” health society official Khalid Arshad said.

According to a health department report, about 139,281 persons had been screened at multiple transits points so far. There are a total of 49 transit points across Indo-Nepal border.

In another significant move, the state government has engaged village chowkidars to keep a watch on residents returning home from other cities to celebrate Holi.

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