High cost of cheap meat

Chicken rear­ers say an­tibi­otics are in­dis­pens­able

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

THE POUL­TRY sec­tor in In­dia has un­der­gone a ma­jor change in struc­ture and op­er­a­tion over the past two decades. From be­ing a mere back­yard ac­tiv­ity, the sec­tor of rear­ing broil­ers (those grown for meat) and lay­ers (the ones grown for lay­ing eggs), has ex­panded at 8-10 per cent a year in the past decade, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 re­port by icra Ltd, an in­vest­ment in­for­ma­tion and credit rat­ing agency in the coun­try.In 2013,its mar­ket size was ` 58,000 crore.The mar­ket of broiler meat alone has grown at 10 per cent and now ac­counts for half of the mar­ket size of all meat, ac­cord­ing to the An­i­mal Hus­bandry Statis­tics,2013.

Andhra Pradesh is the big­gest pro­ducer of poul­try meat in the coun­try. But the poul­try in­dus­try of Haryana has grown at the fastest rate of 12 per cent in the past five years and has be­come a ma­jor sup­plier of meat to Delhi and ncr.

An­a­lysts say the sec­tor re­ceived the im­pe­tus from large in­te­grated play­ers, who own right from the par­ent-breeder stock and hatch­eries to farms for grow­ing chick­ens, mills for manufacturing feed and fa­cil­i­ties for pro­cess­ing and pack­ag­ing meat. Th­ese play­ers are ex­pand­ing their busi­ness by giv­ing con­tracts for grow­ing broil­ers, which pro­vide lucrative earn­ing op­tions to many com­mu­ni­ties, like those on the out­skirts of Jaipur.

In a vil­lage in Ba­gru mu­nic­i­pal­ity near Jaipur, onethird of the house­holds have taken up poul­try farm­ing since Sim­ran Farms Ltd, an In­dore-based poul­try com­pany, ap­proached them three years ago for grow­ing broil­ers on con­tract ba­sis. “The com­pany said it would pro­vide ev­ery­thing, right from the day-old chicks to feed and medicines, and pick up the ready-to-slaugh­ter birds on the 35th day. All we had to do was to take good care of the birds, for which Sim­ran Farms of­fered us ` 11-13 per bird. Only a fool would have re­jected this op­por­tu­nity, ”says Bhanu Jangid (name changed), a res­i­dent. Each fam­ily in the vil­lage rears between 3,500 and 5,000 birds and earns between ` 25,000 and ` 40,000 a month.“We had never seen this kind of money, ”says Ajay Ranawat (name changed) ,an of­fice boy-turned-poul­try farmer, who has a farm of 5,000 broil­ers. The num­ber of poul­try farms is grow­ing in this mu­nic­i­pal­ity, which al­ready boasts 120 farms.

Th­ese poul­try keep­ers blindly fol­low in­struc­tions of Sim­ran Farms to keep the birds healthy and fat. Af­ter all, ev­ery kilo­gram of meat counts in poul­try busi­ness. “As soon as the day-old chicks ar­rive, we give them 1 ml of En­rocin mixed with a litre of wa­ter for three days,”

says Jangid. “The medicine is re­peated af­ter ev­ery 15 days for three days, ”he says with an al­most clin­i­cal pre­ci­sion. En­rocin is the brand name of Pfizer’s an­tibi­otic en­rofloxacin. Should not an­tibi­otics be given only to sick birds? “The com­pany has asked us to ad­min­is­ter an­tibi­otics be­fore hand. There is no point wear­ing hel­met af­ter one meets with an accident, is there?” Jangid asks with a chuckle.

An­tibi­otics are also used as preventive mea­sure at Cen­tral Poul­try Per­for­mance Test­ing Cen­tre (cpptc) in Gur­gaon, which is be­lieved to main­tain high stan­dards of hy­giene and main­te­nance. “The biose­cu­rity mea­sures are very im­por­tant to keep the farms free of in­fec­tion, but do not pro­vide com­plete safe­guard from in­fec­tions, ”says an of­fi­cial with cpptc.

To cater to the grow­ing de­mand, even poul­try feed man­u­fac­tur­ers add an­tibi­otics lib­er­ally to the feed. Th­ese feeds con­tain a va­ri­ety of an­tibi­otics and are avail­able mixed with vi­ta­mins and other feed sup­ple­ments. Many small-scale poul­try farm­ers, like the ones in Ba­gru, are not sure whether the feed sup­plied by Sim­ran Farms con­tains an­tibi­otics. Re­peated calls to rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the com­pany yielded no re­sponse.

Then there are other poul­try farm­ers who feed an­tibi­otics to the flock as­sum­ing that it is a feed sup­ple­ment. While vis­it­ing Haryana’s pre­mier Lala La­j­pat Rai Univer­sity of Ve­teri­nary and An­i­mal Sciences (lu­vas) in Hisar, dte met a poul­try farmer who had trav­elled 45 km from Bagla vil­lage with his dead chicken. He wanted vet­eri­nar­ian Gul­shan Narang to as­cer­tain the dis­ease so that he can ad­min­is­ter medicine to his flock. “I do not give medicines to my chick­ens with­out con­sult­ing a vet­eri­nar­ian,” he said, adding in the same breath that he gives only gen­tam­icin to the day­old chicks as soon as they ar­rive in his farm. He spoke the sec­ond sen­tence in a mat­ter-of-fact man­ner with­out re­al­is­ing that gen­tam­icin is a pow­er­ful an­tibi­otic. “When I started my farm of 6,000 chick­ens eight years ago, other poul­try farm­ers in my vil­lage told me that gen­tam­icin is a must. So I use it,” said the farmer who did not wish to be named.

What’s more, an­tibi­otics are eas­ily avail­able over the counter. A dte re­porter, pos­ing as a poul­try farmer, vis­ited two whole­sale feed sup­ple­ments and vet­eri-

nary medicine shops in Kar­nal district of Haryana and asked for a kilo­gram of ciprofloxacin.The shop­keeper pre­sented the an­tibi­otic loosely wrapped in a poly­thene. It ob­vi­ously had no men­tion about the date of manufacturing, ex­piry or cost. He charged 2,000 for the drug that looked like wheat flour. When dte en­quired about the man­u­fac­turer, the shop­keeper said,“It is Chi­nese,” adding that he would not pro­vide a bill.

A Kar­nal-based dealer of feed sup­ple­ment and medicines, in­forms dte that small pharma com­pa­nies man­u­fac­ture such an­tibi­otics and sell those to bulk drug mar­kets such as Bha­gi­rath Palace in Delhi. An­tibi­otics are also com­ing from China as the im­ports are not reg­u­lated.No one knows if it has ex­pired or the amount of im­pu­ri­ties in it. Drums of ciprofloxacin can be seen at poul­try farms across Haryana, he adds.

Poul­try farm­ers also ig­nore the manda­tory with­drawal pe­riod, time gap between the use of an­tibi­otics and when it is slaugh­tered that helps en­sure that high lev­els of an­tibi­otic residues do not pass on to hu­mans. In 2013,the Di­rec­torate Gen­eral of Health Ser­vices is­sued a cir­cu­lar ask­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to men­tion with­drawal pe­riod on the la­bel of drugs. In case the with­drawal pe­riod is not men­tioned, it should be con­sid­ered at least 28 days in case of chicken, reads the cir­cu­lar. Gur­gaon-based poul­try con­sul­tant A Dua says with­drawal pe­ri­ods are never fol­lowed in other than ther­a­peu­tic cases (treat­ing the sick birds). In cer­tain cases, dte ob­served, poul­try farm­ers try to by­pass the pro­vi­sion at the cost of public health. If dis­ease strikes a flock three to four days be­fore its sched­uled date of sale, farm­ers sell off dis­eased chick­ens. They say giv­ing an­tibi­otics and then keep­ing the birds for the with­drawal pe­riod means they will have to be fed for a longer time, which is an ex­pen­sive af­fair.

CON­VE­NIENT OR RISKY?

Those in­volved in the busi­ness of grow­ing broil­ers say an­tibi­otics are a con­ve­nient way of pro­duc­ing cheaper meat. “As an­tibi­otics kill mi­crobes in the in­tes­tine, they help ab­sorb feed nu­tri­ents bet­ter, re­sult­ing in weight gain, ”says an of­fi­cial at cpptc.

On the pre­text of prevent­ing dis­eases, poul­try farm­ers use an­tibi­otics in feed to fat­ten the birds. How­ever, there is no way to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between pre­ven­tion of dis­eases and growth pro­mo­tion.

Though the econ­omy of a poul­try farm gets af­fected by dis­eases, mor­tal­ity and time taken to at­tain the de­sired weight (2 kg in 35 days), it is the feed con­ver­sion ra­tio (fcr) that can make or break a poul­try farm. fcr is cal­cu­lated by com­par­ing the weight of all broil­ers with the amount of feed they con­sume dur­ing their life cy­cle. Poul­try farm­ers, small or big, strive to at­tain low- er fcr, which means less feed to at­tain the max­i­mum weight. This in­di­cates prof­itabil­ity. The eas­i­est way to achieve low fcr is by feed­ing the poul­try an­tibi­otics.

Satish Pal, pres­i­dent of Poul­try Fed­er­a­tion of In­dia, ex­plains cost of pro­duc­tion and its re­la­tion to fcr.The cost of rear­ing a chick into ready-to-slaugh­ter broiler is usu­ally 140.While the day-old chick costs about 25 and ex­penses in­volved in labour, elec­tric­ity and medicines come to around 15, rest of the ex­penses go into feed­ing the broiler. An­tibi­otics are used by farm­ers to at­tain low fcr, he adds.

Well-man­aged farms try to achieve an fcr of 1.5.A back-of-the-en­velop cal­cu­la­tion shows that at an fcr of 1.5,at­tained through an­tibi­otic use, a chicken would eat 1.5 kg of feed to gain 1 kg of meat. By the time it at­tains the ideal 2 kg slaugh­ter size, it would have con­sumed 3 kg of feed, which would cost about 75.In case of an fcr of 2, it would con­sume 4 kg of feed, worth 100. By keep­ing the fcr low, the farm­ers would save 25 per bird. For a big farm of 100,000 birds, with an av­er­age seven rear­ing cy­cles a year, low fcr trans­lates into a sav­ing of 1.75 crore a year. Given that the cost of

an­tibi­otics in feed is 100 per tonne, the com­pany will have to spend only 2.10 lakh. This is a huge in­cen­tive for poul­try farm­ers to use an­tibi­otics.

“It is not pos­si­ble to rear birds with­out us­ing an­tibi­otics or its al­ter­na­tives such as pro­bi­otics or phy­to­bi­otics (plant extracts) that help main­tain good gut health of the bird,” says Bi­jen­dra Sharma, nu­tri­tion­ist at Bhag­wati Feeds Pvt Ltd,Sonepat.

While many poul­try farm­ers are aware of other op­tions or an­tibi­otic-free growth pro­moter feed sup­ple­ments, their high cost is pro­hib­i­tive for smaller play­ers. Big­ger farm­ers are less keen be­cause there is no in­cen­tive to make an­tibi­otic-free chick­ens. “The mar­ket does not of­fer pre­mium rate for an­tibi­otic-free chicken, ”says Jag­bir Dhull, direc­tor, Sky­lark Hatch­eries. The com­pany claims to have raised broil­ers with­out non-ther­a­peu­tic an­tibi­otic use for about five years be­fore shift­ing to an­tibi­otics. “Our cost of pro­duc­tion has re­duced by up to 20 per cent since we dis­con­tin­ued the herbal feed sup­ple­ment, hymu, ”says Dhull.

Pal, pro­ducer of hymu, which pro­tects broil­ers by boost­ing im­mu­nity, says Sky­lark is earn­ing the div­i­dends be­cause it used an­tibi­otics af­ter five years. Its cost of pro­duc­tion will in­crease as the bac­te­ria would be­come re­sis­tant with ev­ery cy­cle, he says, adding, an­tibi­otic-free sup­ple­ments are cost-effective in the long run.

On the pre­text of prevent­ing dis­eases, poul­try farm­ers use an­tibi­otics in feed to fat­ten the birds. There is no way to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between dis­ease pre­ven­tion and growth pro­mo­tion

For a big farm with 100,000 chick­ens, feed­ing an­tibi­otics could trans­late into a sav­ing of 1.75 crore a year

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