Monday, November 5, 2012


Food safety management can be a thankless job for any government because of the sensitivity of consumers to food shortages and price rise. Recent ban on entry of eggs produced from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu by the government is expected to create a no-win situation for both the government as well as the consumers. Out of about 15 million eggs consumed every day in Kerala, bulk of it comes from Tamil Nadu, almost 90%, while Karnataka sends about a million eggs. The reported prevalence of Avian Flu in Karnataka seems to be the provocation for Kerala to put in place such a ban and it is not clear whether this ban is justifiable at all considering that this viral disease is not easily transferable through eggs to human beings. As for infecting birds in Kerala, the poultry industry in Kerala is practically non-existent and such a possibility can be discounted. While as a precaution such temporary measures are in order, prolonging it can cause acute shortage and very high prices for eggs available in the market. Besides such long time ban can throw out of business many traders dealing with egg marketing.

It is but logical to expect that scarcity of eggs is going to create shortage in the market causing all round concern with most Keralites being non-vegetarians by nature. Looking at the chronology of events, it may be recalled that the ban was imposed by the State on the eggs and poultry coming from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka a few days ago. If reports are to be believed many traders depending on egg business have shut down their outlets because of stop of flow of eggs from out side consequent to the ban and one can imagine its economic impact on the industry. According to some observers, eggs and poultry products being brought from Tamil Nadu are certified by veterinary doctors. and only broiler chicken and eggs for incubation purpose are brought from Karnataka. Also to be noted is that the bird flue was reported in a farm in Karnataka a week ago and the authorities there had taken steps to destroy the affected product. It is in this context that the industry feels the ban makes little sense. The poultry industry in Tamil Nadu is also incurring huge losses on account of the development and about 120 loads of eggs are reported to be awaiting clearance at check posts between Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Imagine the consequences of these eggs getting spoiled due to slow clearance at the border check posts. How the situation is going to be handled remains to be seen with the possibility of substantial portion of the eggs getting perished.

The price of eggs for both direct consumers as well as others like bakeries, restaurants and road side vendors is bound to shoot up due to the prevailing ban. Interestingly same eggs are being marketed in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as these states have not banned them as a knee-jerk response to isolated detection of bird flu there. What will be a worrying factor is regarding the fate of eggs losing their quality due to disruption of the flow into Kerala. Are they going to be sorted out and fed to the market or there will be compulsory destruction of the entire lot? Who will be responsible to look into these aspects? Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Karnataka? While the right of any state to prohibit entry of unsafe foods into its territory is to be respected, same has to be exercised with utmost caution. Though the bakery industry is most vociferous in criticizing the ban as they fear that with Christmas season fast approaching their business is going to be seriously impacted, there is a general concern that Kerala will witness serious turmoil if the ban is not lifted soon.

It is interesting to note the relatively high consumption of eggs in Kerala which works out to about 4 eggs per week per person or 220 eggs per year compared to 43 eggs annual per capita consumption in whole of the country. Of course in comparison, countries like Japan, Mexico etc consume more than 300 eggs per year per person. According to the nutritional norms of the GOI, on an average a person must consume 180 eggs an year for good health. While egg consumption is generally discouraged among well fed population due to its high cholesterol content, for those who are not in their pink of health due to limited access to good food, egg is an excellent source of balanced nutrition. While population in the industrialized world need to curtail their egg consumption, in a country like India egg consumption needs to be encouraged. 

The poultry industry in Kerala is practically non existent with average daily production being about 60, 000 eggs! Coming back to the ban, it is not clear why the Kerala government has not taken pro-active steps to encourage poultry industry in that state, making the population there vulnerable to such a situation. Is it that the high humidity in most parts of the state is not conducive to poultry birds? Probably not. A puzzling factor is that when there is a huge growing market for eggs, the state depends on imports from neighboring states. It is time that the state wakes up to the real potential of poultry industry and encourage setting up huge poultry farms in the state, probably with foreign technology with high efficiency. A ban probably may not be the answer under the present circumstances and a cooperative effort among the three governments concerned can find an immediate solution, in stead of taking such unilateral action to ban the trading in eggs, putting lot of people in these states in difficulty in terms of food shortage and business loss.


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