The food festivals, drastic reduction in chicken prices and public awareness campaigns have not succeeded in getting chicken back into the Indian menu. A large number of people are still refraining from eating eggs and chicken, despite heath officials stating that well-cooked poultry products are safe for human consumption.
'There is still a 40 percent drop in chicken and eggs consumption across the country. The farmers, especially those with small holdings, are very badly hit due to a 50 percent fall in prices,' A.P. Sachdev, vice president of Poultry Federation of India, told IANS.
'The poultry industry is losing around Rs.450 million every day with wholesale prices of broiler chicken falling from Rs.35 per kg to Rs.20 and egg price dropping by 50 percent to 80 paise. The overall consumption has slumped by 40 percent in addition to an impact on exports.'
The retail prices of chicken and eggs are still down as consumers are wary despite government health officials having announced that well-cooked poultry products nullify any chances of infection transmission.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), people working in poultry farms are more at risk than consumers to the disease that has spread across a dozen countries, killing over 90 people.
Of the 173 cases of infection among human beings, not one was due to eating poultry products, industry experts pointed out.
While the government maintains a vigil to prevent any resurfacing of infection, the poultry industry has launched a massive awareness campaign among the population via public lectures, advertisements and chicken food festivals to woo back consumers.
So far campaigns and food festivals have been held in major chicken consuming centers like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Karnal and Bangalore. A 'Chicken Mela' is also planned in Delhi's Walled City area Sunday.
At an education seminar organised at the Science Museum in the capital earlier this week, Shahid Jameel of the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology had said that avian flu was not caused by eating properly cooked poultry products.
About 800 people, including schoolchildren, attended ted to attend the lecture to spread awareness among their elders.
Industry officials are also upset that chicken is still excluded from the food served in the parliament canteen and other major commercial operations like airlines.
'It is baffling that while politicians are saying that it is safe to eat well-cooked chicken, it is not on the menu of parliament's canteen. This is sending wrong signals,' industry officials said.
On the export front, there is considerable disturbance as Japan has put off plans to import poultry products from India while several neighbouring countries have suspended imports of chicken, eggs and egg products.
'Unless we get a clearance from the International Office of Epizootics (OIE), we cannot hope to retrieve the situation. It will take 90 days to get a disease-free certificate. Meanwhile, India could look into getting the disease-free zone certificates (within the country) so that exports are not affected,' a food industry expert said.
The International Office of Epizootics (OIE) provides veterinary certification for products of animal origin.