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11 Mar, 2020 02:11

Indian farmer DESTROYS nearly $800,000 worth of chickens & eggs over coronavirus fake news on social media

Indian farmer DESTROYS nearly $800,000 worth of chickens & eggs over coronavirus fake news on social media

The coronavirus outbreak has not killed anyone in India so far, but it has been absolutely lethal to the poultry industry, with a false rumor leading one farmer to destroy his entire livelihood.

Dr. Suresh Bhatlekar, a poultry farmer from the town of Dahanu in the state of Maharashtra, is one of the many local poultry producers that have fallen victim to the coronavirus-linked panic, fueled by social media posts suggesting that the COVID-19 could be transmitted through white meat.

Though unfounded, the rumor has spread like wildfire on messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, prompting many to drop chicken and eggs from their daily diet, while sending poultry sales plummeting by up to 80 percent across India, the third-largest producer of eggs and fourth-largest of chickens in the world.

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Efforts by the industry’s professionals, lawmakers and veterinarians to reassure the public have so far been in vain. Some farmers, struggling to pay their employees due to lack of demand, are opting for drastic measures.

“Due to the losses, my labourers have no work as I have stopped production,” Bhatlekar said, as cited by the Hindustan Times, explaining why he decided to destroy some ₹5.8 crore – approximately $782,000 – worth of eggs and day-old chicks.

The Indian government has taken pains to stop the ruse from spreading. State authorities said that they would be setting up so-called “chicken parties,” where people will be offered to help themselves to dishes with chicken meat.

“Poultry products and dishes made out of chicken will be served to people at discounted rates. Also, an awareness campaign about the virus vis-a-vis poultry industry will be carried out,” Maharashtra’s minister of animal husbandry Sunil Kedar told India Today TV in a recent interview.

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The authorities are also seeking to prosecute those who spread the rumor in the first place. The Poultry Breeding Association in Pune has lodged a complaint with police accusing a man from West Bengal of being a source of the rumors. The alleged hoaxer is now facing arrest.

While there is a strain of avian influenza – commonly known as “bird flu” – that can infect not only birds, but humans as well, there has been no scientific evidence that the COVID-19 novel coronavirus can be transmitted by chickens.

“There is a misconception that coronavirus will spread through chicken, mutton and seafood. There is nothing like that. It is scientifically not proven,” said G. S. G. Ayyangar, head of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

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