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The Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) said in a notification that the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture of Saudi Arabia had imposed a temporary import suspension on all live birds, hatching eggs and chicks from India due to avian influenza outbreaks.
Although Saudi Arabia contributes a mere 3 per cent to India’s annual poultry exports of $80 million, exporters fear similar reactions from other importing countries. Oman leads with 38 per cent share in total poultry exports, followed by Maldives (9.3 per cent) and Vietnam (7.6 per cent).
“India is considered as one entity in terms of poultry farming. Hence, importing countries suspend purchase of poultry products from the entire nation in case of (highly pathogenic) avian influenza outbreak in a small town. Since India’s overall poultry exports is a very small portion of its industry size, the import suspension by Saudi Arabia is not going to have any impact on chicken and eggs,” said Balram Yadav, managing director, Godrej Agrovet, one of India’s largest players in poultry products and feed.
Owing to repeated outbreaks of the virus, India’s poultry exports have declined over the last two years. After sustaining above $100 million for two years, exports declined to $79.31 million in 2016-17. Poultry exports in the April-December also declined by 0.5 per cent to $59 million. However, in rupee terms, exports declined 4.27 per cent to Rs 3.81 billion from Rs 3.98 billion in the corresponding period last year.
“Suspension by any country normally has a cascading effect on other countries. We fear similar suspension by other countries,” said a senior industry executive.
Experts, however, have urged the government to segregate the country's poultry industry into separate zones to enable exports from other regions in case of outbreaks. They said segregation would not hamper exports of poultry products from India.
The size of India’s poultry industry is estimated at around Rs 1,000 billion, of which exports comprise 3-4 per cent. Saudi Arabia makes up for only 0.12 per cent of India’s poultry industry, according to Yadav.
Some birds were reported to have died due to avian influenza in Bengaluru in January. Normally, bird flu outbreaks take place due to sudden climate changes.
Ramesh Khatri, president of the Poultry Federation of India, however, blames non-governmental organisations' (NGOs') influence on government policies. “These foreign-funded NGOs do not want poultry industry to grow. They keep creating panic by declaring avian influenza outbreaks in certain farms. There has been no such outbreak in my view, and hence the temporary suspension on their import into Saudi Arabia is unwarranted,” he said.
The Centre has been planning to frame stringent guidelines under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960, for poultry farms, based on recommendations of the Law Commission to prevent use of battery-cages.