Though bird flu has been breaking out fairly frequently in the past decade and a half in the country, it is a sad refection of the state of affairs that it continues to be handled in a knee-jerk manner. Amid a flurry of inspections and bird-cullings, the familiar pattern of laments that ensues smacks of cocking a snook at food safety norms made to ensure that clean and hygienic meat products are sold to the consumers. As masses of birds fall dead, many feathers are ruffled. Shrill voices stressing the need to upgrade the infrastructure of poultry farms, slaughterhouses and meat markets are made; the lack of proper implementation of food safety and certification policies is trumpeted; a shortfall in expert manpower required to inspect and ensure hygienic practices is cited; the hue and cry then pipes down as the crisis blows over in a short while. Meanwhile, little progress is made in improving the situation or being better equipped to combat the next bout of avian flu.
Not surprisingly, what rules the roost every time is scare-mongering and the nosediving of the sale and prices of eggs and chicken products. Some places in North India, where the flu is concentrated this time, have reported a drastic drop of 70 per cent in the demand for chicken and a cost collapse of 50 per cent. Naturally, it has hugely hit the poultry industry — it is worth nearly Rs 1.25 lakh crore in the country. With the poultry farmers crying hoarse over the mounting losses and increasing debts, the authorities rush to issue advisories about the safety of consuming ‘properly cooked’ poultry products.
However, it would be better for both the trader and the consumer if, instead, they focused on addressing the challenges of enforcing food safety measures in the long term. The task is humongous, for concerns around meeting the hygiene parameters of the nutritive but highly perishable meats abound at all levels: from animal slaughtering to its storage, transportation, quality check, regulation and sale. Only an FSSAI-certified poultry product can allay fears and win the buyers’ trust. A stamp of foodstuff safety is a sure-fire way of tackling scare-mongering.