Poultry and Eggs

Chickens are specially bred and fed… then killed to be eaten. This man-made freak of a bird is not allowed to, nor would it be able to live out to its normal life-span. According to the Royal Society Open Science website, when instead of killing them at 5 weeks, they were kept alive upto 9 weeks their mortality rose 7 times. They stated “the rapid growth of leg and breast muscle tissue leads to a relative decrease in the size of other organs such as the heart ad lungs, which restricts their function, and thus longevity.”

In India since 1919 the Livestock Census has been conducted every 5 years. Poultry is also covered and the second highest rise 12.39% found in the 2012 Census was that of poultry. Very sad because that many more chickens were specially bred and raised to lay eggs, then killed for their flesh; or bred to be slaughtered for their flesh.

With the possible exception of fish, the hen is the creature that suffers the most for the sake of our food in sheer number of lives taken – 80% of the meat consumed in India is chicken. If in addition to these numbers, one considers the quality of these lives — lives banished to a lifetime of imprisonment and immobility for laying eggs — then their suffering might exceed that of fish.

Indian Poultry development (valued in 2011 at Rs 26,000 crore and with the involvement of 2 million people) continued as a backyard activity for over a decade after India’s independence. Commercial exploitation started in the early 1960s when the Government of India created four central poultry breeding farms. Forty years on, the poultry sector enjoyed industry-status and chicken is the main meat consumed in India with consumption of 1.9 million tonnes in 2005 although it is primarily live bird oriented as most chickens for home consumption are purchased live and slaughtered in small local shops.

Poultry is considered one of the fastest growing segments of the agricultural sector in India. In 2012 ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) declared that egg production is likely to rise from the current level of 7,500 crore to about 9,500 crore by 2015. The annual growth rate of the poultry sector is as high as 15-18% in broilers and over 8% compounded growth rate for egg production. Andhra Pradesh’s egg production was over 30% (2,800 crore per year). Tamil Nadu ranked second with 20%. Maharashtra, Haryana, Punjab and West Bengal having less than a 10% share each. And, Karnataka, Kerala and Odisha each produced 5%. (These figures cover hatching and table eggs.)

In 2012 the global market for eggs was 2,000 billion and was said to be rising at the rate of over 60%. India annually exported over 5 crore eggs worth Rs 250 crore mainly to Afghanistan, Algeria, Hong Kong, Maldives, Middle East and African countries. 90% of “high quality, white shell” eggs were exported from Namakkal in Tamil Nadu. In August 2013, shipments from here to Afghanistan, Oman and Bahrain doubled, presumably due to the volatility of the rupee. Although India faced competition from countries such as Pakistan, China, Iran and Bangladesh, new European and West African markets were being explored.

During cold weather the demand for eggs increases, and recedes every summer when consumption of eggs and chickens lessens, except along the east coast during the annual 45-day fishing ban during summer when there is a rise of 5-10% in sales of eggs that are consumed in place of fish. In winter 2010-11 the price of eggs rose to a record high. However, it was claimed by the poultry industry that it did not grow more than around 14% in 2010 because of constraints like lack of basic infrastructure, such as storage and transportation, and the volatility in poultry feed prices.

Yet, in 2012 the Indian poultry industry was estimated at $3.6 billion. While India’s chicken producers like Suguna Food (Suguna Home Bites), Venky’s (Venky’s Xprs), Alchemist (Republic of Chicken) and Godrej Agrovet (Read Good Chicken) are fast expanding, global majors like Cobb of the US, Mitsubishi of Japan and CP Foods of Thailand are keen on entering India; and, the Aviagen Group (world’s premier poultry breeder) has already set up an integrated backend processing plant in South India. In 2013 it was claimed that the world consumed 106 million tonnes of poultry, and since it was growing at the rate of 2.5% a year 128 million tonnes of chickens were expected to be globally eaten in 2020.

In 2015 when India’s broiler meat production stood at 3.5 mt (far below USA’s 17 mt) the US Department of Agriculture projected India’s domestic poultry meat consumption growing to 6.4 mt by 2023. USA was the largest producer, followed by Brazil, China, EU and India.

Intensive Poultry Farming
The hen was one of the first victims of the modern, intensive method of farming animals, called “factory farming” for the mechanised methods employed to raise and “harvest” the animals. Compared to the industrialised West, where this intensive method has practically completely replaced the traditional barnyard chicken farming, in India, one can still find chicken farming done both along traditional lines — mainly in rural areas — and in the modernised fashion (intensive factory farming) — for the urban market. However, the vastly greater output of the intensive system compared to the traditional system is hastening the progress of the latter to the pages of history.

What, then, are some of the cruelties involved in the raising of hen for food?

The relegation of hen to the status of inanimate, unfeeling vegetables, almost, is the most tragic outcome of the intensification of poultry farming. To have its bodily freedom snatched away, its every natural instinct frustrated, its parental instincts denied expression, and to be raised in surroundings completely alien to its natural requirements, all at the hands of the creature — man — who has fought wars to retain for himself these very privileges that he now denies the “lower” beings is the story of the moral decline of man.

Hens are raised as:
• “Layers” for laying eggs
• “Broilers” for being killed for meat

Ironically it is the hen (layer) that is raised for remaining alive and “producing” eggs whose quality of suffering is far worse than that of the male chicken (broiler) that is raised to be killed.

Each one of us needs to carefully think if it is ethically right for humans to:
• Grow grain and feed it to chickens instead of humans
• Advertise the co-called “benefits” of consuming chickens and eggs
• Kill chickens for humans to eat
• Know that humans die of starvation due to lack of grains to eat

The sole objective of intensive farming is increased production and economy of operation. India ranks fourth in the world for egg production of around 48 billion per annum with India’s per capita consumption of 47 eggs per person per annum, and per capita consumption of 2.4 kg poultry per person per annum. India ranks fifth in the world in broiler chicken production of 2.3 million tonnes per year with India’s per capita consumption of 2.4 kg per person per annum. The means adopted for achieving this production is briefly described below.

As per the Ministry of Agriculture (Government of India) in 2015-16 India’s egg production stood at 82.9 billion and was expected to rise by 5%.

Glimpse into a Poultry Farm
The layer hens are crowded in small cages made of wire-mesh in which they can hardly move or spread their wings. This lack of space to stretch their limbs causes their legs to get deformed. Artificial lighting round the clock simulates daylight and thereby tricks chickens into laying more eggs. Forced moulting through starvation (5 to 14 days) manipulates egg laying to suit economic gain. (It attracts the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960; therefore, in compliance with the March 2011 order of the Animal Welfare Board of India, almost all state governments have issued directions to stop it.) Painful de-beaking is done to prevent them from injuring themselves and others during fights that break out as a natural consequence of their close and stressful confinement. It is not surprising that this unnatural and artificial diet could very well include crushed oyster shells called oyster-grit. Every thing fed is for a specific production advantage such as the coloured dye for darker yellow egg-yolks.

They are also fed antibiotics and hormones daily. According to experts there is no doubt that antibiotic shots given to poultry (and seafood) to increase growth, has fuelled antibiotic resistance among non-vegetarians in India. However, in response to the EU pressing to specify withdrawal time on meat and fish exports, India prepared a National Policy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance which puts a cap on how much and for how long antibiotics can be pumped into poultry, seafood and other products. Under the new rule for eggs and milk, layers (hens) and milch cattle (cows/she-buffaloes) will have to be off antibiotics for 7 days before they enter the food chain; for poultry and livestock (slaughtered for meat) 28 days; whereas for fish it has been specified at 500 degree days.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) over 58,000 children died in India in 2013 due to antibiotic resistance. Following the WHO report warning, in 2014 the Drug Controller General of India and the Ministry of Agriculture directed all state governments to stop the use of antibiotics and hormones in cattle, poultry and other animal feed. They also called for strict implementation of the 2012 law which mandated a gap between the time an animal is given a drug and extraction of a food product from the animal as mentioned above. If it is implemented production cost will go up… so it is very likely that chicken and eggs will continue to have serious consequences on humans because of residue of antibiotics and hormones given to poultry as a food additive to prevent disease and promote growth.


This was vindicated by a lab study released in August 2014 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) which found antibiotic residues in 40% of the muscles, kidneys and livers of chicken samples they tested. The presence of six antibiotics: oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline, and doxycycline (class tetracyclines), enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones) and neomycin (an aminoglycoside) were checked for – 17.1% had more than one antibiotic residue. Residues of five of the six antibiotics up to 131.75 micrograms per kilogram, were found in samples tested. Experts and doctors in Delhi and Bangalore reiterated that regular consumers of chicken meat (and eggs) were developing antibiotic resistance. The CSE said the antibiotics used cause an inflammation of the gut mucosa, resulting in faster growth. Roxarsone is anti-microbial and a growth hormone believed to be a source of arsenic contamination in poultry. And, as expected, Ventakeshwara Hatcheries immediately claimed that antibiotic residue in check was way below international standards which of course means nothing! Obviously then, not only the flesh of chickens, but egg consumption becomes as harmful.

A 2016 study found 11% chickens sampled at fresh produce markets around Hyderabad carried a multi-drug-resistant form of a bacteria commonly found in birds and known to sicken people. These super-germs were detected in both the intensive farm broilers and others. Scientists said this indicated an alarming consequence of the nation’s fast-growing poultry industry and the misuse of antibiotics. The meat was causing hard-to-treat infections in people.

Again in 2017 it was declared that poultry may make consumers resistant to antibiotics. Researchers from the US based Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) collected random samples from 530 birds in 18 poultry farms in Punjab and tested them for resistance to a range of antibiotic medications critical to human medicine. They found high levels of antibiotic resistant pathogens in chickens being raised for eggs (42%) and meat (87%), thus posting serious health hazards for humans. Unsurprisingly two-thirds of the farms reported using antibiotics for promoting growth.

Interestingly, chicken legs from USA (obviously full of antibiotics as the country has voluntary standards for antibiotic use) are likely to be imported into India. And, more interestingly, American researchers have in 2015 predicted that by 2030 Indian will be consuming 4,743 tonnes of chicken reared on strong antibiotics.

Industry sources say that for healthy growth of birds, the temperature at the farm needs to be maintained at around 25-30 degrees Celsius which does not happen in summer when there is a shortage of water and power too, as a result of which many birds die. Cold waves can also kill the birds as happened in Junnar taluka (Maharashtra) during January 2011 when around 3 lakh chicks, which were expected to be ready for sale in 40 days, died.

Interestingly, a Perdue University study of the population of chicken reared for commercial purposes around the world found that commercial breeding for meat and eggs had resulted in 50% or more of the diversity of ancestral breeds being lost and with disease resistant genes having disappeared, chicken are prone to very many more illnesses.

The chicks are separated from their mothers at birth. The job of segregating male and female chicks is done by a “chick-sexer”. (The only chick sexing institute that teaches this in India is in Kerala.) The vent technique entails pushing the faeces out of the tiny chick thus opening the anal vent. If a spot and an accompanying bump are visible, the chick is a male, but if the area is flat the chick is female. Thousands of chicks are checked in quick succession resulting in poor handling coupled with little respect for the small and delicate lives. The demand is mainly for female chicks which are used for breeding. Excess male chicks not to be raised as broilers are generally killed by crushing whereas the female ones are raised for egg production. At public exhibitions the poultry industry has been known to gift small, yellow, cute chicks to children. Never accept them. They are “unwanted material” which never survives.

Hundreds of coloured chicks have been rescued in by animal activists from roadside sellers in many cities of India. They are mostly “unwanted” males, dipped in cheap bright coloured dyes – many do not survive the ordeal. Not all chicks are dumped in a vat of colour soon after hatching. They could have been dyed via injections containing hydrogen peroxide, ammonia and food colours, inserted into the eggs. Such chicks are commonly sold in China, Malaysia, Morocco, Yemen, and in USA during the run-up to Easter. New feathers are normal, so when the coloured fluff falls off the attraction is lost and the birds are discarded.

Transport of Chickens/Hens
The treatment of live chickens during transport to selling points and butcheries is an everyday sight. They are transported to far away cities in overcrowded Lorries without food and water and often subjected to the hot sun or rain for long hours. They can also be seen carried upside down in bunches hanging from the handlebars of bicycles, their legs tied together, or crammed into baskets in suffocating conditions, kept by the roadside for sale. They are sometimes taken directly to restaurants where they await slaughter upon orders received from customers.

Investigations by animal rights activists have revealed that there is a lot of rough handling involved: when the workers catch hold of the birds and load them into Lorries their leg bones, wings and heads get injured and often fractured, it is a similar story when the birds are unloaded. If they fall off the bicycles on which they are being carried up-side-down, they get caught in the wheels and are ripped apart. Again, they are roughly pulled out from the tiny cages in which they have been stuffed – waiting outside the restaurant which will turn them into tandoori chicken – and their necks are slit, then immediately dumped into scalding water to facilitate removal of feathers.

Illegal, unhygienic roadside shops where chickens are slaughtered and their flesh sold (often alongside mutton) are found in every town and city simply because Municipalities tend to look the other way and when and if they don’t, the fines imposed are so very nominal they make no impact upon these outlets and business continues as usual.

Producing Eggs involves more Cruelty than Producing Chickens
Practically all vegetarians in India, including those who call themselves “pure” vegetarians, include milk and dairy products in their diets but no other animal products (with the possible exception of honey). Such vegetarianism is termed lacto-vegetarianism and its practitioners called lacto-vegetarians. Traditionally, Indian culture has always regarded eggs as unacceptable for vegetarians. There used to be no question of Brahmins eating eggs, for example. Those vegetarians who would eat eggs would do so acknowledging that they were transgressing the ethic of vegetarianism. Moreover, in 2001 the Government of India amended the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act & Rules, 1955, so that all packaged foods “which contain whole or part of any animal including birds, fresh water or marine animals or eggs as an ingredient” should display a non-vegetarian symbol.

However, periodically this issue has been opened up to interpretation. Arguments about the very definition of vegetarianism, about the issue of whether and what form of life is contained in an egg, about the rationale behind not consuming eggs, are commonly heard; and bombardment of the general public by falsehoods propagated by the National Egg Co-ordination Committee (NECC) sponsored media have all created an atmosphere where the younger generation is openly revolting against the traditional notion that the egg is non-vegetarian.

(The NECC is an umbrella organisation representing large segments of the country’s poultry industry. It was registered as a trust (sic) in 1982 and used the slogan “My Egg, My Price, My Life…” when initially organising over 300 meetings with groups of poultry farmers and traders all over India. It now claims to be the largest single association of poultry farmers in the world with most of India’s egg production coming from NECC members whose numbers have swelled to over 25,000. Layer farmers having 250 or more birds and egg dealers handling 12,000 or more eggs per day are entitled to become members of NECC on payment of the requisite fee.)

At such a time of confused values, BWC would like to put forward its code of ethics in this matter and remind the readers why eating eggs must be considered completely unacceptable:

A fertile egg carries potential life. In time, it could hatch into a chicken. Cases have been known when people breaking an egg into the frying pan have had to see the unmistakable shape of the semi-formed body parts of the yet-developing life inside splattered on their pan. In short, an egg is an under-developed embryo. A 2013 news item carried a photo of an egg tray with a few eggs shells cracking open, and another photo of the hatched chicks. The chicks emerged due to high temperature.

People argue that they eat only unfertilised eggs. All the eggs that come from traditional farming are fertile ones, i.e. carrying a live embryo inside them. Mixing of fertile eggs with infertile ones that come from intensive poultry farms is a frequent occurrence. Moreover it is quite common for some unwanted fertile eggs from factory farms to be passed off for sale along with the infertile ones. It is impossible to make out an unfertilised egg from a fertilised one by looking at it. Besides, suppliers of eggs may not be segregating their eggs even if they do take the trouble to identify the fertilised eggs. Retailers might be stocking eggs from more than one supplier. The consumer cannot claim to be able to spot the unfertilised eggs in such cases.

Perhaps the strongest reason for some to avoid eggs is the shocking conditions in which hen are kept on poultry farms for laying eggs: confined inside barren wire cages, barely able to move let alone build a nest, perch, dust or bathe, and by keeping the light on overnight, they remain awake and are tricked into doubling their egg production. Consuming eggs amounts to supporting such cruel practices for the most trivial purpose like baking a cake or a most harmful habit like eating omelettes regularly for breakfast – more the consumption of eggs, higher the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Some times retail outlets under special promotional schemes give away non-vegetarian items against purchases made over a particular amount, e.g. Reliance Fresh has given 6 eggs free from Delight (a store next door that sells only non-vegetarian items like chicken, mutton, fish and eggs) to those who have bought goods worth Rs 225 or more from their outlet. BWC feels vegetarians should strongly object to such non-veg gifts, not simply take them because they are free and pass them on to some one who consumes them.
Battery Cages vs. Free-Range 
After having made an appeal on its website requesting views on rearing, transport, maintenance and sale of poultry, in July 2017 the Law Commission submitted its report No 269 entitled “Transportation and House-keeping of Egg-laying Hens (layers) and Broiler Chickens” to the Union Minister of Law & Justice.

With an idea of putting an end to the cruel practices of confining birds in battery cages, the Commission recommended certification of poultry farms by the Animal Husbandry Departments of States, where a distinction of produce o
btained from cage free egg farming from that obtained from battery cage farming is drawn. The Commission particularly felt that the weight of the birds should be an important factor in calculation of maximum stocking density. Given the gravity of the issue of battery cages and the fact that the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Egg Laying Hens) Rules bill had been pending since 2012 the Commission proposed 2 sets of modified rules to be notified: The PCA (Egg Laying Hens) Rules 2017 and The PCA (Broiler Chicken) Rules 2017.

In response, the Poultry Federation of India said given the scale of India’s poultry industry, free-range farming was not possible. Others from the industry felt free-range farming would lower yields and increase incidence of disease with birds being exposed to droppings.

Salving Ones Conscience

Eggs in India are labelled as regular (from hens kept in small cages with high output), brown/white (colour of shells derived from breed of hen), barn-laid (eggs laid by so-called happier hens because they have more room to move around), organic (eggs laid by hens fed pesticide-free grains, and fed no antibiotics, hormones or meat by-products), omega-3 and nutritionally enhanced/premium (hens housed in battery cages fed a special diet of canola, linseed and flax seed and/or given folate, lutein and vitamins so the nutritional benefit is found in the eggs they lay), processed eggs (pasteurised eggs in liquid, frozen or dried form) and in a baffling irony infertile eggs are disgustingly called vegetarian – so much so that some hatcheries in Namakkal and Erode have begun saying that as their egg-laying hens are on a vegetarian diet (soy flour in place of fish meal) the eggs they lay are vegetarian. Whereas others ridiculously claim “if hens are fed with fish residue, the healthy cholesterol-battling Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil easily move through the hen’s digestive system to the yolk of the egg which is otherwise a cholesterol bomb and even the chicken will be relatively healthy.”

Abroad eggs that are not as cruelly obtained as through battery/intensive farming practices are labelled for sale describing how the hens were raised or what they were fed, or what extra benefits the particular eggs might provide; they are also graded depending on firmness and size. Some of the terms used on the labels are cage free, free range, omega-3 fortified, organic, certified humane, and also vegetarian meaning infertile eggs. This trend is fast catching on in India and ironically is being promoted by foreign animal welfare organizations. They say in 2008, of the 232.2 million egg-laying hens as many as 200 million lived in battery cages that are not banned in India, but by 2011 supply of some cage-free hens’ eggs to a few restaurants and hotels in Delhi and Mumbai began and is seen by BWC as yet another gimmick to promote egg consumption. The eggs are available under different certified labels like cage-free, stress-free, tension-free, humane and organic – all at double the cost to the consumer of course!

“Egg-less” this and that, typically cakes, long became the norm in India. Every one very well knows that there is no such thing as a vegetarian egg – all eggs are non-vegetarian and will forever be so. All they are trying to do is entice vegetarians into eating eggs. And egg powder some times finds its way as an ingredient. Moreover, the government has come out with a specific scheme to rescue exporters of egg powder.

So-called Health Benefits
Both the desi and vilayati eggs have been turned into “herbal eggs” and ridiculously compared with tulsi and amla in goodness. These new Keggs were launched at an exhibition at NDRI, Karnal in December 2009. Suguna entered the branded egg market a year earlier with four varieties: Active, Heart, Pro and Shakti. SKM Eggs Products’ Best eggs are also branded and Vangili Feeds branded ones target “the health conscious urban population of children, diabetic husband, weak-hearted father, pregnant wife,” and so on. Somnath Poultry have branded their eggs Good Eggs claiming they are “good for your health” etc. Claiming to have special nutritional features such as low cholesterol, high DHM content and folic acid, several brands of eggs are being marketed by big retail stores like Easy Day, Spencers, Metro, and More – of the 360 crore of eggs consumed every month, 60 lakh are branded with an annual growth rate of 20%.

In another bid to increase egg consumption and boost sales, UK scientists have come up with a ready-to-eat hard-boiled variety of egg whereas Eggspresso or Egg in an Instant is beaten eggs in a carton; and another claim that “2 eggs a day cuts cholesterol…” cleverly adding not so prominently “while on a calorie restricted diet” to the sentence. In such cases, it would be worth finding out who sponsored the new study which overturned the findings of a previous study which was not helpful to the industry. Earlier studies have all suggested a direct link between eating eggs and an increase in blood cholesterol levels thereby increasing the risk of heart disease. Despite it being scientifically established that egg consumption results in high cholesterol levels, every now and then some poultry industry sponsored study strives to prove that there is no significant correlation between eggs and cholesterol.

Interestingly, a Harvard team came to the conclusion that the risk of death was raised in middle-aged men who ate 7 or more eggs a week since 23% of them died during their 20 year study. May be their findings would have been no different had they observed those that consumed lesser than 7 eggs a week.

In yet another claim from the UK states that the smell of rotting eggs encourages men to have sex which sounds absolutely bizarre! It is obviously a ploy to sell unsold spoilt eggs.

India is no better, and a gimmick to promote eggs here was a “jumbo hen egg” weighing 162 grams, laid at a poultry farm in Punjab which got listed as the biggest in the 2009 special edition of the Limca Book of Records.

Making Fabergé style decorative egg boxes with actual poultry eggs is being taught by crafts persons. (The Russian Peter Carl Fabergé jewelled eggs are made of precious metals and enamel.) Some artists carve designs on duck egg shells.

The World Egg Day is observed on the second Friday of October and in India too the media help promote it. Full page coverage is given by leading newspapers highlighting the so-called nutritional benefits of eggs and urging people to eat them. Significantly, alongside such articles or some where else in the same issue there are always a couple of advertisements released by the NECC, All India Poultry Development & Services Pvt Ltd or allied organisations. In other words, the propaganda on eggs is linked to their advertising clout. A commercial advisement released by them often, based on a Hindi film song jingle has adapted a popular rhyme “Meri jaan, meri jaan, Sunday ke Sunday” and the catchy line targets children: “Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao Andé”.

The 2011 advertisement released by the NECC was misleading in as much that it showed a collage of foods like spinach, almonds, cheese, milk, carrots, oranges, beans, fish and meat shaped like an egg, stating that was the nutrition one got from one egg.

A 2014 printed advertisement for a vegetarian protein supplement bursts the claim that “one egg a day is all the protein needed” stating it is a myth, not fact. The ad goes on to say that the daily protein requirement is 1 gm per kilogram of body weight which would mean one would roughly need to consume 10 eggs a day!

Eggs have been falsely advertised as the cheapest and best source of protein – ideal for the poor. The fact is that an egg costs Rs 3 and has about 6-7 grams of protein, so Rs 0.43 is the cost of one gram. It contains 210 mg of cholesterol and 50% of its calories are fat. No fibre. No complex carbohydrates. In comparison, beans contain 20-40% protein and cost between Rs 40-80 per kilogram, therefore the cost per gram of this protein ranges from Rs 0.20 to Rs 0.40. Beans derive 15% of calories from fat. Not only do they contain no cholesterol but their consumption lowers cholesterol. Plus they carry the benefit of high fibre content. Over and above which oil is an even cheaper source of protein. In short, the poor would benefit cost-wise and health-wise by consuming beans, not eggs.

Although the cancer-causing industrial dye called Sudan Red has been banned, it has been used in Hong Kong and China to colour egg yolks. And more recently eggs, just like milk originating from China, have tested positive for melamine resulting in three death and several other jail sentences including some life sentences.

Salmonellosis is however a common occurrence in those who consume eggs which have as they say been “improperly handled”. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, chill within 72 hours of consuming.

In August 2010 bacteria found in chicken feed used at two Iowa farms was linked to a salmonella outbreak that sickened almost 300 people in at least 10 states of the country and prompted the recall of more than a half billion contaminated eggs in the USA.

Similarly, more than 100,000 eggs were destroyed in Germany in January 2011, due to an animal feed additive that contained dioxin.

The agents of food poisoning include:

• Salmonella, the source of which is especially raw meat, poultry, milk and eggs. Eggs have the highest count of coliform bacteria which can result in salmonella infection. They easily contaminate other food during storage.


• Clostridium perfringens, the source of which is mainly poultry, meat, flies, cockroaches, animal and human excreta.

Although two of three authors of a 2012 study had vested interest in statin drugs, the study claimed that eating egg yolks on a regular basis is approximately two-thirds as bad as smoking with regards to arterial plaque formation. This was followed in January 2013 by the British Medical Journal clearing all charges against eggs related to heart disease!

Avian/Bird Flu
Like Bird Flu, Ranikhet disease has claimed the lives of thousands of chickens in hatcheries, but since the viral disease is not communicable to humans or other birds and animals, attention given is restricted to merely vaccinating the birds.

The first outbreak of Avian/Bird Flu in India in 2006 made people scared to consume eggs and broiler chickens as a result of which the demand fell. Massive losses were incurred by the poultry sector due to “culling” thousands of chickens (and other fowl such as ducks in the area). This made the NECC which represents the country’s poultry industry, immediately launch a nation-wide campaign to reassure consumers that properly cooked eggs and chickens were safe and organised nearly 800 egg melas. In addition they stepped up their efforts to promote year-round egg consumption along with hyped nutritional qualities and benefits.

Ten years later the situation regarding bird flu is no better with hundreds of outbreaks having taken place in-between. It was therefore not surprising when in January 2017 both the UAE and Hong Kong suspended import of poultry products from India due to an outbreak in a part of Kerala of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. However, India’s export of poultry products had surged over 3 years to $117.4 million in 2015-16, compared with $92.8 million in 2013-14.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) data shows 249 human deaths from the H5N1 strain of virus (bird flu) across the world and 397 confirmed infections since the virus resurfaced in Asia in 2003. Moreover the WHO has listed the 2008 outbreak in West Bengal as the worst-ever in India since more than 4.32 million birds had to be culled. Less than three months of being declared as bird flu free, the disease struck West Bengal again in January 2010. Bird flu struck again in February 2011: 2,000 chickens and ducks died in 17 days in Tripura resulting in the state government immediately killing more than 20,500 chickens and ducks and destroying lakhs of eggs up to a 10 km radius of the infected area. Bird flu yet again resurfaced in West Bengal in September 2011. The five Indian states bordering Bangladesh (West Bengal, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Assam and Tripura) are said to be vulnerable to bird flu with Dhaka failing to check the contagious disease and due to smuggling of chicken and duck products into India. And, the latest news from Agartala was that in January 2012 an alarm was raised over a possible outbreak of bird flu in Tripura following the death of more than 600 poultry in Dhalai district. This was followed by bird flu being detected for the first time in Orissa and culling in Meghalaya too which hit poultry exports.

In fact, recurring and fast spreading bird flu in the North East India and other remote areas has made the NECC call for backyard poultry farming to be banned since the organised sector always blames them for spreading it. However, the National Institute of Virology (NIV) suspects that the virus spreads from migratory birds to ducks and then to other poultry. It puts the Rs 40,000 crore poultry sector in loss, also due to a drop in exports to the Middle East. During outbreaks of bird flu the Government gives compensation for culled birds. It is all a matter of money, no thought is actually given to lives expect that in having to kill them huge economic losses are incurred by the poultry industry. Every now and then poultry in different parts of India get infected with bird flu. As soon as a few birds test positive, culling commences… hundreds, if not thousands, are killed. Instead of being injected and buried, but they are often burnt alive. But that doesn’t happen to wildlife. Birds in sanctuaries, lakes and zoos have lost their lives due to bird flu. For example in October 2016, at least 20 died beginning with 5 ducks on the Hauz Khas lake followed by 12 water birds in the Delhi zoo and 3 crows in Sundar Nagar. Since some of these samples tested positive for bird flu, poultry from chicken mandis was also tested.

Interestingly, in 2011 NIV scientists found a new strain of bird flu, similar to the one from Vietnam that killed over 500 crows in different cities of Jharkhand.

Unlike the 2009 bird flu that caught Kerala unaware, the November 2012 bird flu news resulted in a strict ban on chickens and eggs from neighbouring states. (Eggs are used in 40% of bakery items like biscuits and cakes.) The sales tax on one truck load of chickens is as much as Rs 60,000 so any way it results in smuggling.

Bird flu affects not only chickens but all other fowl and birds such as ducks and pigeons have also been killed by the Rapid Response Teams. Ways and means are sort to put an end to the bird flu by many and one such organisation, the Andhra Pradesh Bio-Diversity Board has identified a grey jungle fowl in Chittoor district that is resistant to bird flu. There are hopes of being able to transfer the responsible gene from this bird to others.

In 2011 January, British scientists developed genetically modified chickens by introducing a new gene into them that manufactures a small “decoy” so that they can not transmit bird flu infections. The experts said that while the GM chickens still got sick and died when they were exposed to H5N1 bird flu, they didn’t transmit the virus to other chickens they came into contact with. Their aim was to reduce the economic impact of the disease and reduce the risk posed to people.

In 2011 a Dutch scientist found after testing on ferrets (often used as proxies for humans) that the deadly bird flu virus was just three mutations away from evolving into a pandemic strain that could easily transmit among mammals (i.e. human to human) instead of only being transmitted from birds to humans.

The Look of Poultry Farming in the Future

Years ago, nobody had much use for the feathers, heads, and legs of chickens after they were killed. (Since feathers contain a fibrous structural protein called keratin, they take years to disintegrate.) They were then genuine waste-products; today these body parts are used on a commercial basis to produce fertiliser (poultry refuse) and animal feed. Chicken feet (called phoenix talons in China) are even exported to China, Hong Kong and Vietnam. The poultry industry has now put a price on what was once waste and this business flourishes more than before. Therefore, the dangers of using something, on the pretext that it is “only” a by-product, should be apparent: even if one is not responsible for any killing in the present, one might be responsible for increasing the profitability of the killing. The Poultry Federation of India has plans for carcass utilisation to convert all the refuse of animals into edible meat, fertiliser and fat for candle units. Whereas the National Egg Co-ordination Committee continue in their false propaganda extolling the nutritive value of eggs, schemes for marketing eggs such as introducing them in mid-day meals of school children have attracted the wrath of vegetarians in all states, especially when numerous cases of food poisoning have been registered. State governments of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab included eggs in their mid-day meals, but they were later withdrawn. The NECC used all possible convincing means to ensure that not only were eggs reintroduced in Tamil Nadu, but increased from two to three as claimed by them. However, in Madhya Pradesh bowing to opposition from the Jain community, the Chief Minister declared that eggs would not be served in the state’s anganwadis under the Atal Bal Aarogya and Poshan Mission launched on Mahatma Gandhi Jayanti 2010 that seek to address malnutrition. Again in 2013, there was a move in MP to introduce eggs in the mid-day meal scheme. An internal state government communication clearly indicated that it would “enable larger uptake of eggs in the State boosting the commercial poultry sector”. This was reiterated by the CM in 2015.

India produces around 14 crore eggs daily and consumes all but 30 lakhs that are used to make egg powder. In August 2010 the Ministry of Defence gave a big boost to the poultry sector by increasing the daily quota of eggs for Jawans and for this an additional Rs 250 crores was allocated in the annual budget. This translates into nearly 5% of the total eggs sold every day in India. Till then Jawans deployed above 9000 ft and those in forward areas were getting one egg per day, while those below officer rank in peace time posting were not given eggs.

The NECC was up in arms over the Brazilian Association of Chicken Producers and Exporters announcing a deal in August 2008, to export unprocessed poultry to India, potentially reaching 300,000 tonnes (10% of what they export worldwide) in the first year. They felt that such imports would drastically affect the domestic poultry industry although the import of chickens is probably because of the industry slowdown due to multiple crises of rising input costs which are largely dependent upon the cost of maize and soy fed to poultry, and the bird flu which caused forced killing of more than a million chickens over the last couple of years.

To increase their sales, the poultry industry the world over is constantly experimenting to produce “better” (read cheaper) chicken for the table. For example, the Hebrew University in Israel have bred featherless chicken for warm climates which they say is faster growing, and as no plucking is needed, money will be saved by processing plants. In short, lives don’t count – only money matters.

On the other hand, research at the University of Delaware using chicken feathers is being undertaken to produce energy. The fibres in feathers are composed of a protein called keratin. When heated in the absence of oxygen keratin forms structures similar carbon nanotubes which are ideal for storage of hydrogen to be used as gas. And, a study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln feels that chicken feathers are an inexpensive and abundant source for development of thermoplastics (one of the two major groups of plastics that include nylon, polyethene, polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and others) widely used to make consumer and industrial products ranging from toothbrush bristles to car bumpers. In UK and USA, processes to clean and powder egg shells to fill biodegradable plastics that bolster strength were developed in 2016.

Giri Raja, a breed of chickens used for both meat and eggs was developed in Bangalore. It has been touted as a better breed since the birds will not develop health problems because of intensive breeding. Otherwise poultry is reared specifically for either meat or eggs.

Wild chicken called Kadaknath/Kali Masi, now bred in poultry farms under the Kadaknath Yojana set up by the Madhya Pradesh Government for Rs 418 crore is the only place where these completely black coloured hen-like birds are found. Their survival in the wild is under grave threat as very few are seen in Jhabua, occupied by the Bhil and Bilala Adivasi tribes.

The Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency has approved a poultry-waste power plant is to be set up in Barwala (Panchkula district). The estimated cost of the project is around Rs 40 crore and the Haryana Poultry Farmers Association will have a stake in the power plant. 775 tonne of poultry waste is expected to be used daily in order to generate 6 mw of power. In April 2011 Haryana stated that its daily egg production was 1.5 crore and that the state had 133 big poultry farms with 3 lakh birds each. Plus, an hi-tech farm with 10 lakh birds was coming up at Jind, and that Gurgaon was no longer a big poultry hub because a poultry farm owner could earn much more selling the land on which his farm stands, than he would earn by selling chicken and eggs in his entire life. (Strange but true that the chicken and eggs are marketed in Delhi and other places since Haryana is basically a vegetarian state.)

The National Rural Livelihood Mission scheme launched in 2013-14 meant for the economically deprived women charges Rs 2,250 for 25 1-month old chicks. Similarly, in October 2018 Uttar Pradesh launched a scheme under which 50 chicks were given free to women to fight malnutrition. However, the majority of the chicks died.

In September 2018 the Maharashtra Animal Husbandry Commissioner made it mandatory for poultry farms with 5,000 birds or with a capacity of hatching 500 eggs per cycle to be registered. Around 19000 such farms were in existence. Furthermore other advisories issued included a series of dos and don’ts for the sector. In particular they were prohibited from giving growth hormones and phosphate to the birds and antibiotics were to be regulated. Most important, a 7 day cooling period was to be observed before the birds are sold for human consumption.

Blood Money

The VH Group (Venkateshwara Hatcheries) has made so much blood money that in November 2010 their newly formed company Venky’s London Ltd took over the Blackburn Rovers Football and Athletic club for GBP 23 million. By 2012 the fan base was found to be dwindling due to poor management and performance. So, all that they could possibly claim was having raised global awareness of their brand.

End-2011 restaurant chains and brands like KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Yummiez, Dixy Chicken, Southern Fried Chicken, Bangs and TGIFriday reported a spike in chicken sales during the year. It is sad that meat eating is being introduced and popularised in India and animal rights activists were unable to drive the foreign ones out of the country.

Chicken biryani has been made popular by politicians who feed it daily to their workers during campaigns. Also, as dusk falls it is common to see handcarts selling eggs (hard-boiled, fried or bhurji) in almost every town, kasba and village of rural India because it has become the favoured snack that accompanies liquor.

Unfortunately the success of poultry farming can be mainly attributed to Government support by way of liberal credit schemes by Banks and promotion of egg consumption via the national media. Also, had the Government of India not included intensive poultry farming as an agricultural activity, this killing industry would not have grown to the extent it has today. Poultry research is funded in Government run institutions and universities and the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Exports Development Authority (APEDA) assists with infrastructure development for export. APEDA also provides an airfreight subsidy for exports of eggs and egg products, mostly to the UAE. Total Government support for the poultry sector was Rs 105 million in fiscal year ending March 2005.

Although unsuccessful, BWC has periodically strongly objected to the setting up of different national boards like the National Meat and Poultry Processing Board, to promote meat, poultry, fish, etc. Quite frankly, it is not the job of the Government to be promoting the business of killing.

In 2015 the NECC did not hesitate to appeal to the Government of India to grant a moratorium for a period of one year on repayment of interest and bank loans availed by the poultry industry, interest subvention of at least 6% for a period of 3 years, and additional working capital loans to meet the increase in the cost of production. The body stated that for 4 years there had been an increase in cost of poultry feed but the farm-gate price of eggs had not increased. The average cost of production for egg had gone up from Rs 2.60 per egg last year to Rs 3.50 but the farm-gate price was no more than Rs 3.25 resulting in a loss. Similarly the average cost of broilers had increased from Rs 65-67 per kg live weight to Rs 70-75 whereas the average farm-gate price was Rs 60-65. It was difficult to believe the industry was running at a loss, that too for years.

In the CD circulated by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) they have recommended the following for Poultry farmers:

“Poultry Layer Farming:
Processing/Marketing: Birds should not be kept on the farm beyond 18 months of age, as their egg production will go down considerably and their efficiency of feed conversion will reduce progressively as they grow older.” (BWC explanation: lives are not important; making money is the bottom line.)

“Pointer for higher egg production: Unsuitable and uneconomic birds should be timely culled.” (BWC explanation: culling = killing.)

“Poultry Broiler Farming:

Disease Prevention/Control: Any bird showing advanced signs of a disease should be removed from the shed and culled. It can be sent to laboratory for diagnosis. (BWC explanation: if sick, kill.)

“Rats are important carriers of poultry disease. Avoid rats. Use suitable rat poisons/rat traps.” (BWC explanation: Kill poultry for cash. Kill rats too.)

“Processing/Marketing: Ensure the constant and steady demand for broiler meat is available and the market is nearer to the farm.” (BWC explanation: aggressively market chicken meat.)

“Birds should not be kept on the farm beyond 6-7 weeks of age, as their feed efficiency will go down considerably.” (BWC explanation: should not be kept = kill; feed efficiency will go down = less cash will be realised.)

The above recommendations for poultry farming by NABARD (who represent the Government of India) are as outrageous, if not worse than those given by them for sheep and dairy farming. In fact, NABARD recommends the breeding of many species of animals/birds/fish with the sole aim of killing them – for commercial gain. BWC sees it as hinsa/killing in the so-called land of ahinsa/no-killing.

In short, poultry farming is nothing but a business that kills and aims to expand (read breed more, kill more) in which integrators enter into agreements with farmers and supply day-old chicks, feed and medicines. Farmers get continuous training on broiler management and technology to produce killed ready to cook and ready to eat carcasses.

Not only NABARD, but the Kerala state government feels it should be promoting poultry farming and what could be worse than to introduce it to school girls in 500 schools in Palakkad. The first poultry club scheme was inaugurated in February 2014 at the Government Moyan Girls High School under which 5 chickens would be given free to 100 students so that they were encouraged to “take up food production at a young age”.

Last but not least, the Government in order to protect India’s poultry industry has permitted import of chicken parts with a customs duty of 110% and has stringent food safety norms. Given that Indians like to eat chicken legs whereas chicken breasts are preferred by Europeans and Americans, foreigners want to export the legs and wings to our country with an import duty of 37%. Estimated annual exports are valued at $ 300 million.

Genetic Engineering
Unfortunately India has not banned genetic engineering and cloning of farm animals aimed at boosting egg, meat or milk production. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee did however in August 2010 oppose the development of transgenic chicken at the Project Directorate on Poultry, Hyderabad.

Precious Grain Consumed by Poultry
One of the least-known or acknowledged facts of the meat-based diet is that it is the main cause of making food that is grown unavailable to hungry humans. This is especially true in the intensive method poultry farming. Grains that are perfectly edible by humans, such as maize and soy meal (and when expensive wheat, millet/bajra, broken rice and rice-bran) are instead fed to chickens that are then killed to eat their flesh. More than 80% of the maize/corn grown in India and up to 50% per or at least 3 million tonnes which is roughly one-third of India’s production of soy meal is fed to chickens annually. In fact the Indian poultry industry consumes close to 15 million tonne of feed annually with an estimated value of Rs 15,000 crore. Bumper corn and soy crops always reduce the price of poultry feeds which constitute close to 70% of production costs. (Interestingly, Bihar produces 10% of India’s corn whereas the highest producers of poultry feed are Andhra Pradesh at 17%, then Rajasthan at 14%, followed at 12% by Madhya Pradesh.) In 2012 after a sharp increase in prices of maize (from Rs 950 to Rs 1,400 per quintal) and soy meal (from Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,200 per quintal) the NECC appealed to the government to ban exports and forward trading in these commodities so that it curbs speculation and hoarding. They also appealed for the allocation of at least 10,00,000 tonnes of wheat from the Food Corporation of India – grain meant for human consumption. Interestingly, beginning October 2014 no major corn export deal was signed (due to high prices) which resulted in excess with producers who began selling more as poultry feed which in turn resulted in 10% more chickens being bred.

At the end of 2014 the poultry market declared it had grown to 80% consumption in urban India and was expanding in rural India due to lower prices. As a preventive measure, in March 2007 India had imposed restrictions on import of poultry products from USA (and other countries where avian influenza had been reported) citing concerns over avian influenza (the ban covered live chicks, ducks, turkeys and other avian species) but it was actually fear of American frozen chicken legs (taang) flooding the country’s markets. (In USA chicken breasts are in demand, but legs are unwanted and therefore they are exported to countries where chicken legs are in high demand). In 2012, USA filed for formal consultations at the World Trade Organisation because India continued to impose a ban on the import of poultry and poultry products. The World Trade Organisation ordered India to import American chicken but in January 2015, India challenged the order due to having limited system of storage and distribution of frozen meat but in June 2015 India lost its appeal and the ruling stated that India’s ban on import of poultry meat, eggs and live pigs from the US was “inconsistent” with international norms; and that in 1 to 1½ years USA could begin exporting these products to India. However, at first poultry producers said they were not bothered because almost 96% of consumption in India was of live birds and just 4% of frozen meat. Later they were worried because a whole American chicken costs one-third the price of an Indian chicken and the legs which would be coming into India would therefore be dirt cheap. Then in 2016 the industry began strongly objecting to import on the grounds that chickens in USA were fed GM corn and soy and that was the reason why American chicken meat was so cheap, although some producers said they were not worried because the import was mainly frozen legs whereas whole “fresh” chickens were preferred here. However, the objection raised in 2017 was that pig fat was fed to the US chicken and this could create a religious issue in India.

The Indian poultry market was estimated to be worth Rs 90,000 crore, 65,000 million eggs and 3.8 million tonnes of broiler chickens are produced annually and for which 12 million tonnes of maize and 4 million tonnes of soy meal are needed.

Interestingly, in USA subsequent to the 2012 “corn disaster” pork and chicken, followed beef on the menu of expensive meats. The cost of the main ingredients in animal feed, corn and soy, rose due to the worst drought in half a century. (American ruminants were then fed what ever was cheap or available free, ranging from cookies to orange peels.) One would say the right time to directly consume corn and soy, and stop feeding them to animals and kill them for meat, but unfortunately it did not happen.

Similarly during the 2016 drought of Maharashtra the poultry industry faced a rise in the price of maize and scarcity of soy meal and water of course, resulting in production falling by over 30% and at least 10% poultry units closing down. (Till then Maharashtra was producing 3.5 crore chickens per month of which 50 lakh kgs was supplied to Mumbai. However, later in the year when the poultry sector was hit by a cash crunch due to demonitisation bringing down sales by 60%, they declared that till then 1,300 tonnes of chicken meat was consumed per day from 15,000 poultry farms and the total turnover of the poultry industry was Rs 300 crore of which the unorganised retail sector was 80%.)

The feed-to-meat ratio is as follows (the conversion ratio is far less than for pigs and cows whose meats have religious taboos):
• 2.5 kilograms of grain needs to be fed to poultry to produce the same amount of protein found in 500 grams chicken; and
• 2 kilograms of grain needs to be fed to hens to produce the same amount of protein found in approximately 8 eggs.

If nothing else, this information should make people immediately stop consuming chicken and eggs as a step towards ending starvation. And, those who are considering investment in poultry and allied products should remember that for some reason or other this industry sees high instances of fraud and misappropriation by employees.

Demanding Closure
In July 2012 the people of Vizianagaram district in Andhra Pradesh wanted to make sure that a poultry farm in their area perishes – their protests against the stink (air pollution) resulting in health problems for the villagers, were not working. A mob therefore barged into the Radha Sakku Agro Bio Pharma poultry farm and switched off the power supply. The farm authorities said this resulted in the death of 7 lakh birds. The birds, bred for slaughter, were going to be killed any way so let’s hope that at least this one farm is not resurrected.

That’s not all, because a worm was found in a chicken dish, in October 2012 Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) Thiruvanantapuram under orders from the Food Safety Authorities had to down its shutters.

In 2015 almost 100 small and medium poultry farms in Maharashtra at Sangli, Satara, Solapur, etc. were forced to shut down due to high production costs making it an unviable business. Luckily the hording of maize and soy continues so more poultry farms will close.

Page last updated on 04/02/19