India's poultry industry is eagerly waiting for the country to be declared avian flu free, possibly next week, to cash in on demand from overseas particularly the Middle East.
"We are looking to the opening up of the export market with the notification by the government that India is free of avian flu," O.P. Singh, CEO of National Egg Coordination Committee (NECC), told IANS from Pune.
"Most countries, particularly in the Middle East, are also waiting for the notification so that they can switch back to India for sourcing eggs," he said in a telephonic interview.
Many countries prefer to import Indian eggs as they are of good quality besides costing around four times less than those from Europe. Till early this year India exported around six million eggs daily, including table and hatching varieties.
The industry feels that administrative delay is holding up the notification. In the 90 days since the last cleaning and sanitizing operation was done, no incidence of avian flu has been reported in the country.
According to NECC estimates, the poultry industry's losses were around Rs.128 billion since the first outbreak of avian flu was reported in February in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra until June 30.
Although the demand and retail prices of poultry products have picked up in some parts of the country, industry sources maintained that farmers were still not getting remunerative prices.
The department of animal husbandry officials too feel that notification of avian flu-free status would help the poultry trade.
"We are in the final stages of preparing and will notify OIE (the global organisation for animal health) within a week. The whole process requires verification to ensure that OIE guidelines have been complied with," S.K. Bandhopadyay of the animal husbandry commission told IANS.
The onus of declaring the presence of a disease or being free of it lies with the country. A total of 236 people around the world were infected with the avian influenza H5NI. Of them, 138 died.
In India, no case of human infection was reported. No fresh avian flu outbreaks have been reported in the last three months since the completion of the culling, cleaning and sanitizing process at the places where the disease surfaced.
Poultry samples are still being tested to ensure that there is no fresh outbreak as had happened in Thailand, where the disease re-surfaced after 260 days of being free of it.
"Though OIE does not require it, we will be putting all the data of testing of all suspected cases on our website as a confidence building measure for the trading community. It will be like an international document so that there is no backtracking," Bandopadhyay said.
India, which largely exports table and hatching eggs, hardly exported any poultry products in the last six months since avian flu was first notified in the country.
This has been a big setback for the poultry industry, which had witnessed good growth for the past eight years. Last year, table eggs alone accounted for Rs.3.8 billion of the Rs.6.2-billion-worth poultry product exports.
Apart from fresh eggs for consumption, India exports hatching eggs, small quantities of chicken meat and the rest as value added products.
"Barring Oman, which continued to import hatching eggs from India, there has been hardly any export of eggs and poultry products for the last six months," said Singh of NECC.
"Once OIE is notified that India is avian flu-free, we will be able to meet the demand not only in the Middle East but in Africa that requires large quantities of hatching eggs. For the domestic market, which forms the bulk of our sales, we are continuing with our confidence building measures," Singh added.