Since coronavirus broke out in a few cities in China and a couple of cases were spotted in India as well, rumours claimed for the first time that it was carried by birds.
Rumours on social media about the spread of coronavirus through birds have beaten down poultry prices, which have declined 10 per cent in the past two days owing to a sudden plunge in its demand in the country.
Broiler chicken per kg is now being sold to consumers at Rs 65 in Pune and Rs 72 in Delhi as against Rs 73 and Rs 80 a kg, respectively, last week.
Similarly, egg prices have declined and are trading at Rs 3.75 per piece.
Since the epidemic broke out in a few cities in China and a couple of cases were spotted in India as well, there were rumours that birds were the vector.
Normally mammals are possible origin of this virus, which spills over into humans.
Coronavirus is feared to have originated from bats in China.
“Poultry demand has fallen by 10-15 per cent in the past two days.
"Rumours surrounding the spread of coronavirus through animals and chicken could be a reason.
"Prices of broiler chicken have declined by 10 per cent across all categories,” said Balram Yadav, managing director, Godrej Agrovet.
He added that coronavirus was different from avian influenza (H5N1), for which there was not even the remotest possibility of spreading to birds.
Meanwhile, poultry farmers are facing squeezed profit margins between high-feed and low-broiler and egg prices.
The benchmark broiler chicken continues to trade below the estimated cost of its production of Rs 80 a kg for a sustained period of over a year now.
Many farmers in major producing states like Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar are protesting intermittently, seeking the government’s support on minimum support price and feed at a discounted price.
But, there has been no favourable response yet.
While small farmers have stopped farming and are seeking other means of livelihood, large companies with deep pockets continue to incur losses in poultry farming.
“Poultry demand is very week due to a lean season.
"Normally, the six weeks between February 1 and March 15, demand for poultry products remains seasonally down due primarily to a slowdown in consumption during school examination period.
"Rumours of coronavirus worsened poultry demand.
"We hope, poultry prices to decline further till demand resumes possibly by March-end,” said K G Anand, general manager, Venkatashwara Hatcheries, the producer of Venky’s brand raw and ready-to-eat chicken products.
Meanwhile, feed prices have jumped significantly over the last one year.
Both maize, bajra and oilmeal prices have gone up by up to 60 per cent since January 2019 to make survival difficult in poultry farming.
Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters