Request for Responsible Reporting and For AI (Bird Flu) Vaccines in India

Poultry industry and poultry farmers in India have come to dread Jan and Feb of a new year. In 2020 - first few months were marred by massive rumors over spread of Covid through chicken consumption. Having barely overcome those setbacks – local poultry farmers in Jan 2021 are now bracing for massive losses on account of confirmed outbreaks of HPAI H5N8.

Reported first in migratory birds – H5N8 has now been reported from 7 provinces across India though still largely in crows and migratory birds barring Haryana in North of India. City of Panchkula in Haryana near India’s City Beautiful, Chandigarh – which is home to a very large population of layer birds, has now officially reported on 9th of January 2021, of H5N8 outbreak in a few layer farms. The number of birds affected and culled on last Saturday are reported to be around 160,000 layer birds.

That this latest outbreak of H5N8 has come to hit in January 2021 is doubly damaging the industry, since winter months in large parts of India are a peak season both from volume sales as well as farmgate prices of poultry products, especially eggs.

Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying the responsible authority though has shown alacrity in issuing advisories to all states / provinces to increase vigil, raise biosecurity standards and minimize the movement of live birds and is leading the charge – but all this pales in comparison to the massive losses the local Poultry Industry suffers from time to time.

Since 2006 – when the first outbreak of Avian Influenza was reported in India – country has doggedly pursued the path of destruction – destruction / culling of affected birds and stamping out unaffected population in 1 Km radius of affected farms. This stamping out strategy certainly has outlived its utility and probably India may be one of the rare countries pursuing this policy, still.

Crying Need for Vaccines

There is, no there was, a need for introduction of AI vaccines long back, to support the local poultry farmers and if anything this latest outbreak of H5N8 should serve as a last lightening bolt to open the eyes of officials responsible for formulating vaccination policies.

That a current Junior Animal Husbandry Minister of India is a Veterinarian should be enough to allow poultry farmers access to quality AI vaccines.

While on one hand, India is proving its prowess in being a global quality producer and supplier of Covid vaccines – permission to manufacture locally and even allow imports of AI vaccines will only help fulfill long outstanding demand of poultry farmers. That this approval will only serve as a stimulus package for the beleaguered poultry farmers.

Responsible Reporting

Equally important and if not more, is an urgent need on part of local media to show restrain and resort to report only factual information rather than scaring away consumers from highly nutritious poultry meat and eggs. If local poultry farmers were to send any message to local media post Covid-19 disaster – it would be to stick to Mass Communication 101 Basics - to balance the flow of information, be as objective and to dispel misgivings.

Since World’s 1st outbreak in 1997 – there has hardly been any news of any significant risk to human beings. Moreover, the way Indian kitchens heat and cook chicken meat and eggs in multiple savory curries – there is only one thing on the plate and that is lip smacking and nutritious Chicken Tikka.

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