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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 January 2008, 13:27 GMT
Worrying times for Indian egg producers
By Supriya Menon
Business reporter, BBC News, Mumbai

Indian wrestlers
Wrestling could be hit by the West Bengal bird flu outbreak

Plastered in mud, wrestler Suhas Gujar is busy practising his tackling skills for his next big match in a dingy room tucked away in the central suburbs of Mumbai.

Like other wrestlers Gujar takes great pride in his body - a good fit body for him means a greater chance of winning.

But to keep it in shape, and maintain his 12 inch biceps, Gujar's diet requires special attention.

For that he eats a dozen eggs every day, accompanied by several bananas and almonds, before washing it all down with a litre of milk.

'Cut down'

But after the outbreak of bird flu in West Bengal in eastern India he has had to modify his eating habits a bit.

"Earlier I used to eat 10 to 12 eggs a day," he says.

"Now I have cut it down to about seven because of the bird flu scare. But if the outbreak spreads outside of West Bengal I will stop eating eggs completely."

Business gets affected for us, even though the outbreak is in West Bengal
Arif Aziz

It is this kind of fear amongst the customers that is affecting Arif Aziz's small poultry business.

Tallying accounts, sitting at his small chicken store, for him means dealing with mounting losses.

Business is slow and his daily margins have dropped from $600 (300) a day to about $350.

"Even with the two previous outbreaks nothing really happened," he says.

"But people get scared anyway. They listen to rumours and keep away from poultry products.

"Finally business gets affected for us, even though the outbreak is in West Bengal."

Price crash

But, more than the small time retailers, it is the big poultry businesses that are feeling the pinch.

At the Takave farms in Pune, near Mumbai, the mood is hardly upbeat.

Workers at Indian egg producer
Farms are being reminded of the 2006 bird flu outbreak

Every day the farm produces nearly 400,00 eggs which are supplied across the state.

But, after the news of the outbreak, not only has the demand fallen but egg prices too have crashed drastically.

For Faram Roze, the owner of Takave farms, these are worrying times. He says that the farm is having trouble even recovering its costs.

In fact the situation is so grim that farm owners here are reminded of the first outbreak of bird flu in India, in 2006.

At that time the industry lost nearly $3bn.

Export zones

Today, India produces some 37 billion eggs per year, according to United Nations figures, about a tenth of which is destined for the export markets.

Already countries like Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Nepal, Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Bhutan have banned poultry products from India.

Other countries are watching closely to see how far the outbreak spreads before they take a decision on poultry imports from here.

It is a decision that could cost a lot of business to companies involved in exports, such as Venkateshwara Hatcheries.

Chickens in cages in Indian egg farm
India is one of the world's biggest egg producers

They believe that unless the Indian government takes urgent steps the situation will only get worse.

Anuradha Desai, chair of Venkateshwara Hatcheries, says the only way around the problem is to create export zones - such as countries like the US, China, and Malaysia, among others.

These zones would ensure that exports would continue even when outbreaks occurred in other parts of the country.

These are trying times for a country that has managed, in a short time, to become second biggest player in global egg production.

Unless this outbreak is contained soon many smaller Indian hatcheries - part of an industry valued at around $11bn - risk going out of business.

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