'But there is no study which has examined how the local chickens are grown or what the farmers are feeding them'
Recent data reveals a strong change in consumer preferences for chicken meat. Livestock experts and stakeholders expressed concern in a discussion on this issue.
"In recent times, it has been observed that people are avoiding broiler chicken or “farm” chickens, and are instead buying Sonali chickens as well as duck and turkey," said Professor Dr Khaleda Islam of the Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University.
She was speaking at a seminar titled “Expert Panel on Safe Feed”, jointly organized by the World's Poultry Science Association – Bangladesh Branch (WPSA-BB) and Bangladesh Poultry Industries Central Council (BPICC) in Dhaka on Friday.
The Sonali chicken breed is a cross between Rhode Island Red cocks and Fayoumi hens, and has a similar appearance to that of local chickens. It was introduced in 1996–2000 in the northern parts of Bangladesh which created employment for nearly one million rural women, according to FAO.
When consumers buy a “Deshi” chicken, they are actually buying a Sonali chicken.
According to a BPICC report, people like Sonali as it tastes like the local breed of chickens.
"But there is no study which has examined how the local chickens are grown or what the farmers are feeding them," she added.
Quoting Department of Livestock data, Mahabub Hassan, executive vice president of Avon Animal Health, said: "In July 2018, some 80% of the consumers were consuming broiler chicken while only 20% were consuming Sonali chickens. Within a year, a sharp change in behavior took place. According to the data revealed in July 2019, 55% of the consumers bought broiler chickens while consumption of Sonali went up to 45%.”
Asked why it could be problematic, he said that the broiler chickens farms are grown with safe feed subject to many government regulations, while Sonali chickens are not grown scientifically.
At present, some 6.1 million people are employed (directly or indirectly) in this sector, among whom some 2.4 million are women, he said, adding: "If the growth rate continues, the poultry sector would be the second largest source of employment after readymade garment sector. It is likely to employ a total of 10 million people by 2021.”
Director General of the Department of Livestock Research Institute, Nathu Ram Sarker, said it is a good sign that the people of the country are consuming more protein.
A few years ago, Bangladeshis were consuming 3.5kg white meat per capita per year. Now the figure has risen to 7kg. It is expected that this would rise to 8kg by 2021, he added.
He said that the country hopes to export chicken by 2025, and added: "So we need to take all possible preparations to ensure food safety.”
Replying to question, President of WPSA-BB, Abu Luthfe Fazle Rahim Khan said they have already undertaken research initiatives to bring local chicken into farms.
The speakers said that recently some poorly conceived, unscientific research was widely publicized by the media; this misleading research made the public afraid to eat broiler chicken. They think this is why the consumer preference for the more expensive Sonali chicken has increased.
Former Information Commissioner Golam Rahman, the moderator of the program, urged the media to report sensibly and to avoid spreading misinformation which can hurt an industry.