Animal Husbandry Minister Giriraj Singh on Monday asked state governments to not shut down poultry markets or restrict sales of eggs or broiler chicken meat in the wake of the avian influenza outbreak that has affected 10 states so far, reported The Hindu. He said that unfounded rumours about poultry products could have a cascading impact on the rural economy.

The bird flu outbreak has been confirmed in Delhi, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh as of January 12. The latest cases were reported from Dehradun and Kotdwar in Uttarakhand on Tuesday, ANI reported.

While H5N1 poses no apparent threat to humans, its highly pathogenic strains can be deadly to domestic poultry and sometimes, wild birds. This has had a devastating impact on poultry industry as authorities introduced restrictions to contain the spread of the contagion. Since last Wednesday, prices of broiler chicken have crashed from around Rs 82 to Rs 58 per kg in Maharashtra, Rs 94 to Rs 65 in Gujarat, and Rs 80 to Rs 70 in Tamil Nadu, according to The Indian Express.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Singh appealed to states to not panic as there have not been any cases of bird flu being transmitted to humans in India. Besides, there is no danger of transmission if the meat consumed is properly cooked, he said.

There is further no proof to suggest that restricting inter and intra-state movement of poultry products was necessary to curb the spread of the disease, Singh stressed. Therefore, he appealed to states not to take such drastic measures without any scientific evidence.

“Unfounded rumours about the safety of poultry products could have a devastating impact on the poultry industry, and hurt thousands of small farmers all along the sector’s value chain,” Singh said.

Since January 3, when the avian flu outbreak was first reported, ex-farm gate prices of broiler chicken have fallen from a national average of Rs 85-90 per kg to Rs 55 per kg, the minister said, citing the findings of Gulrez Alam, director of the Indian Broiler Group. Sales have dropped 50%, he added.

Maize, which was selling at Rs 1,800 per quintal has now dropped to Rs 1,100 per quintal. “Maize is used as feedstock for the poultry industry,” Singh said. “In March, the sector already took a major hit from false rumours that Covid-19 could be spread by meat consumption.”

Singh specifically requested the Delhi government to reconsider its decision to shut Ghazipur mandi, Asia’s largest wholesale market for chicken. The minister said he had written to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on the matter. Delhi’s Animal Husbandry Department on Monday confirmed eight cases of the flu after testing samples from dead crows and ducks. The Capital is also among the five states that have imposed restrictions on the movement of poultry products.

Meanwhile, in Jharkhand, crows and mynas were found dead in Shikaripara area of Dumka district on Monday. The samples of these birds have been collected and sent for an analysis. Test reports will ascertain the cause of death, Dr Awadhesh Kumar Singh, Dumka district animal husbandry officer, told ANI. Animal Husbandry Department Director Nancy Sahay said around 2,500 samples, including that of 20 dead wild birds, were sent to the lab for tests. “Till now no death of poultry has been reported in the state,” she added. “Animal Husbandry department is taking all necessary steps.”

Avian influenza spreads to forest areas

Bird flu has spread to the forest and protected areas of Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, and Gujarat, and primarily infected migratory duck species over the past week, the Centre said, according to the Hindustan Times.

“The first cases of avian influenza were reported from the Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh,” said the ministry’s Additional Director General Soumitra Dasgupta. “But following that reports have come from forest areas of Kerala and Gujarat where the affected birds are mostly migratory duck species in forest wetlands.”

The ministry official added that other agencies such as the fisheries department was being roped in to control the spread. On January 3, an advisory was sent to all wildlife chief wardens, asking them to maintain a strict vigil on the wintering habitats of migratory birds.

Bombay Natural History Society Director Bivash Pandav said the possibility of endangered species contracting the virus cannot be eliminated, adding that precautionary steps had to be taken.

Mumbai civic body issues advisory

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation on Monday issued guidelines on reporting the death of birds and the safe disposal of their remains, after samples from two crows tested positive for the bird flu, reported PTI. The civic body also appealed to citizens to contact its helpline number 1916, if they notice any bird deaths.

The BMC directed the city’s disaster control department to immediately report about death of birds to on duty assistant engineers concerned of the solid waste management in assistant municipal commissioner’s office or to the war rooms. “The workers and helpers from the regional office and under assistant engineer will dispose the dead birds as per the laid down guidelines,” it said.

Assistant engineers will then bring the death of birds to the notice of state-appointed rapid response teams and dispose the carcasses.

As per the directives under “Avian influenza action plan to control and prevent revised guidelines 2021’’, the dead birds have to be disposed of by burying them in a pit. “Also, it is necessary to use an adequate amount of limestone to bury them and ensure other animals do not dig it again,” the civic body said.

The BMC also asked the Veer Jijamata Udyan in Byculla area of south Mumbai to follow guidelines issued by the Central Zoo Authority to contain the bird flu.