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H5N1 Outbreak Highlights Animal Welfare Concerns in India


The recent H5N1 outbreak has shed light on significant vulnerabilities in India’s industrial livestock sector, emphasizing the urgent need for a comprehensive reassessment of animal welfare within the country’s environmental and legal frameworks. This outbreak underscores the importance of the One Health principle, which integrates public health, ecosystem health, and biodiversity conservation.


GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Issues Faced by the Indian Poultry Industry
  2. Issue of H5N1 Avian Influenza
  3.  Steps Needed to Support the Poultry Industry

Issues Faced by the Indian Poultry Industry

Avian Diseases and Biosecurity

  • Outbreaks of Avian Influenza and Newcastle Disease disrupt production and necessitate bird culling, impacting consumption and market stability.
  • Inadequate biosecurity measures in farms and live bird markets contribute to disease spread.

Concerns in Farming Practices

  • Overcrowding and stress in ‘battery cages’ lead to poor air quality, waste accumulation, and environmental pollution.
  • Antibiotic overuse raises concerns about antibiotic resistance and public health risks.

Feed Ingredient Prices and Import Dependency

  • Volatile prices of crucial feed ingredients like corn and soybean meal affect production costs and exacerbate import dependency.

Market Stability and Consumer Perception

  • Rumors and misinformation during disease outbreaks reduce consumption and affect market stability.
  • Limited cold chain infrastructure leads to spoilage and wastage during peak production periods.

Supply Chain Challenges

  • Fragmented supply chains with multiple intermediaries raise transaction costs and hinder farmer profits.
  • Poor transportation infrastructure affects product movement and delivery times.

Regulatory and Financial Issues

  • Overlapping regulations create confusion and compliance challenges for poultry farmers.
  • Limited access to formal credit hampers growth, while finding skilled labor is difficult.

Environmental Impact and Animal Welfare

  • Poultry farming contributes to water pollution and air quality issues without proper waste management.
  • Ensuring animal welfare standards across the industry remains a challenge.

Industry Transition Challenges

  • Exiting the industry is challenging due to contract farming arrangements, accumulated debts, and specialized skills required.

Issue of H5N1 Avian Influenza

  • The outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza underscores the urgent need to address animal welfare.
  • Originating in chickens, the first human infection of H5N1 occurred in 1997 in Hong Kong.
  • India reported its first H5N1 case in Maharashtra in 2006, with subsequent outbreaks spreading across 15 states in December 2020 and early 2021.
  • H5N1 has shown the ability to cross species barriers, causing mortality among polar bears in the Arctic and seals and seagulls in Antarctica, indicating its global impact.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the fatality rate for H5N1 at 52% since 2003, highlighting its severe threat to human health.
Various Provisions Related to the Poultry Sector in India

Status of Poultry Birds in India

  • India has 851.8 million poultry birds, with 30% categorized as ‘backyard poultry’ belonging to small and marginal farmers.
  • Poultry birds such as chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese are reared for meat and eggs, with Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and West Bengal among the states with the highest poultry populations.
Legal Status of Poultry Units in India

Guidelines for Poultry Farmers, 2021

  • New definitions categorize poultry farmers based on bird count: Small (5,000-25,000 birds), Medium (more than 25,000 and less than 1,00,000 birds), and Large (more than 1,00,000 birds).
  • Medium-sized poultry farms require a Certificate of Consent from the State Pollution Control Board or Committee under the Water Act, 1974, and the Air Act, 1981, for establishment and operation, with permission granted for 15 years.
  • Implementation of guidelines falls under the Animal Husbandry Department at the state and district levels.

Other Provisions

  • Poultry units with over 5,000 birds are classified as polluting industries by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
  • The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) Act, 1960, prohibits intensive confinement of animals, including chickens, emphasizing animal welfare.
  • The 269th Law Commission of India Report in 2017 proposed draft rules for chicken welfare in meat and egg industries, aiming for improved animal welfare and safer food production.
  • However, the Draft Rules for the egg industry released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare in 2019 are considered inadequate despite recommendations.

 Steps Needed to Support the Poultry Industry

  • Infrastructure Development: Invest in infrastructure such as poultry farms, hatcheries, processing plants, and transportation facilities to enhance the efficiency and capacity of the poultry industry.
  • Research and Development: Support research and development initiatives focused on improving poultry genetics, feed efficiency, disease management, and environmental sustainability.
  • Training and Education: Provide training programs and educational resources for poultry farmers to enhance their knowledge and skills in areas such as animal husbandry, biosecurity, and sustainable farming practices.
  • Access to Finance: Facilitate access to financing options and credit facilities for poultry farmers to invest in modernization, expansion, and technology adoption.
  • Regulatory Support: Implement supportive regulatory frameworks that ensure food safety, animal welfare, environmental protection, and fair competition within the poultry industry.
  • Market Access: Facilitate market access for poultry products through trade agreements, export promotion initiatives, and market development efforts to enhance competitiveness and profitability.
  • Technology Adoption: Encourage the adoption of modern technologies and best practices in poultry farming, including automation, data analytics, precision farming, and renewable energy solutions.
  • Sustainability Initiatives: Promote sustainable practices such as organic farming, pasture-raised systems, waste management, and renewable energy integration to reduce environmental impact and enhance long-term viability.
  • Risk Management: Provide risk management tools and insurance schemes to mitigate risks associated with disease outbreaks, market fluctuations, natural disasters, and other unforeseen challenges.
  • Collaboration and Networking: Foster collaboration among stakeholders in the poultry value chain, including farmers, processors, suppliers, researchers, government agencies, and consumer groups, to address common challenges and seize opportunities for growth and innovation.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024