This article originally appeared on VICE India.
The global scare around the COVID-19 pandemic that is spreading across the world has also brought with it a massive infodemic. There’s a lot of fake news doing the rounds, but the most popular one in India is that eating meat like chicken and eggs can cause coronavirus. While this isn’t technically true (the World Health Organisation advises against raw meat, not meat in general), everyone from a Hindu organisation that says coronavirus is an evil avatar out to punish non-vegetarians to alarmists armed with WhatsApp, are encouraging people to stop eating chicken and eggs. While this is a win for the vegan agenda, with people switching their preference to plant-based alternatives like jackfruit, the flip side to people chickening out on eating poultry products is that India’s poultry market has taken the biggest hit. According to The Economic Times, the poultry market is losing about Rs 1.5-2 billion (up to approx. $26 million) every day, creating a super difficult situation for livestock breeders and sellers. And now that no one’s buying the stuff they’re selling, many Indian poultry farmers who are facing the effects of the immense loss are resorting to killing their chickens and breaking eggs.
On March 9, a big-time player in Maharashtra’s poultry market also culled his chickens, effectively destroying Rs 5.8 crore (approx. $781,000) worth of poultry products. Dr Suresh Bhatlekar, who owns about 35 poultry farms and three hatcheries in Gujarat and Maharashtra buried 1.75 lakh day-old birds and 9 lakh eggs in multiple pits on his farm. Yesterday, a poultry farmer from the Belgavi district of Karnataka loaded up about 6,000 baby chicks in a truck, drove them to an empty lot and dumped them there, burying them alive. While he was severely criticised for this action on social media, he said that it was necessary since taking care of these chickens during a decline in demand was leading to heavy losses.
Despite the Indian Animal Husbandry Department issuing a notice that chickens don’t cause coronavirus, cases of bird flu have also cropped up in Kerala, the state with the highest number of coronavirus cases currently, causing even more panic. This has led to the state culling more than 12,000 chickens and asking everyone to avoid eating meat till the avian influenza situation improves. While some states have promised poultry farmers some compensation for the losses they will bear, there is no clarity on what this amount will be yet.
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