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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 February 2006, 19:31 GMT
Fear and anger over bird flu

By Monica Chadha
BBC News, Mumbai

Chicken trader Nasir Sheikh
Nasir Sheikh - one of many upset chicken traders

Bird flu was first identified in India on Saturday 400km (250 miles) north of Mumbai (Bombay). It is having a huge impact in the city.

Chicken trader Nasir Sheikh is one angry man. He runs a poultry shop in the busy Crawford market in southern Mumbai and has seen his business drop by 80% since Saturday.

"My shop used to be crowded earlier. Now I find it difficult to sell two birds in a day, all because of this bird flu fear."

He says it is lack of clear information that is causing confusion in the minds of the people.

"Our livestock is tested, checked by qualified doctors and then brought to the city for sale."

"You tell me," he demands, "Has anybody been found sick from eating chicken?"

Mixed signals

He is not the only one who is angry.

Yusuf Suleiman Sheikh
Yusuf Suleiman Sheikh is worried about the future

Most traders are upset that no one seems to emphasise that chicken and eggs are apparently safe after being cooked well, so there is no danger from eating them.

They also say the government is sending out mixed signals, telling people that eating chicken is safe on one hand while allowing state-run aircraft and railways to stop serving it on board on the other, which does not help their cause.

Poultry business has dropped by anywhere from 70% to 90% and traders say they might not last long if this continues.

Yusuf Suleiman Sheikh followed his grandfather and father into the poultry business. He says such bad times are a first in the 30 years he has spent in the trade.

"I am just about getting by right now. However, no one expects the situation to get better for the next two months and by then, I will have suffered great losses."

Restaurants and hotels in the city have adopted a cautious attitude towards serving chicken.

While cold cuts and eggs are avoided, chicken dishes are available for those who want them. However, desserts are being made without using eggs as an ingredient.

Rising prices

Munib Birya along with his partner Chetan Sethi, runs a popular restaurant called Zaffran in south Mumbai.

He asked me three times if I was sure I wanted to eat chicken... the seed of doubt was planted in my mind
Nidheesh Vasu
Mumbai professional

He says he still eats and serves chicken as he believes it is safe to do so, but people prefer ordering meat and seafood.

"One client threw a private party in my restaurant and I told him to go for chicken, even offered to be there and eat with his people to show that it is all right. But he preferred to order lamb and fish."

Mr Birya also said since a majority of people are not eating chicken anymore, prices of meat and seafood are rising steadily and that might force him to hike the rates in his restaurant.

"Meat and seafood are being sold at almost double the price and this is definitely beginning to pinch the pocket. I can't keep absorbing the losses. Eventually, I will have to add a surcharge and get it from the customer."

People seem to have mixed feelings towards eating chicken after the reports of bird flu in India.

Media professional Nidheesh Vasu says he had no fears about eating chicken until his office canteen guy convinced him otherwise.

"I ordered my regular dish during lunch and he asked me three times if I was sure I wanted to eat chicken. Then the seed of doubt was planted in my mind and I decided to be safe and stop eating it completely."

He says he will not eat chicken until the bird flu issue blows over and will survive on meat and fish till then.

Brave faces

Heena is visiting relatives in Mumbai and says she has not stopped eating chicken but has become more careful of where she buys it from.

Chickens in Navapur farm
Nearly 900,000 chickens are being slaughtered in Maharashtra state

"I don't care for meat or fish and love chicken too much to stop eating it. However, I make sure I always order it in a good restaurant and ask for it to be well cooked."

Most poultry traders express optimism that the situation will improve like it did in 2004, when people had stopped eating chicken and eggs after reports of an outbreak of suspected avian flu in neighbouring Pakistan.

Things returned to normal within a few weeks.

So the traders are putting on a brave face for the world. But they must be dreading the difficult times ahead.


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