Rather than pointing fingers, the authorities should look more closely at the problems
Through 2018, there was continuous over-supply of day-old poultry chicks, broilers, and eggs in Bangladesh.
The over-supply caused low prices, which made consumers happy, but all local poultry farmers suffered financially.
By comparison, in 2019, prices of poultry in local markets have increased.
This has brought with it the usual allegations of cartels and price-fixing in the media and from various government bodies.
However, to understand the real situation, we have to see the realities of disease and vaccination in the poultry farms of the country.
In Bangladesh, due to repeated huge losses since 2009 due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI, commonly known as “bird flu”), the government has allowed import of HPAI vaccines to protect poultry flocks. The import of HPAI vaccine was allowed as the government was primarily trying to prevent possibly serious transmission of HPAI/bird flu to humans.
However, most people outside the poultry industry are not aware that there is a less dangerous variant of the HPAI/bird flu virus, namely Low Pathogenic Avian Influenza (LPAI for short). Unlike HPAI, this does not present a public health risk to humans; it only results in sickness and affects the mortality of chicken flocks.
The Bangladesh government never allowed import of LPAI vaccines for poultry. Instead, the government directed poultry farmers to control losses from LPAI by increasing bio-security of poultry farms.
This can indeed be done, but requires considerable investment such as automatic feeding and drinking machinery, as well as shower facilities for workers.
However, the chicken and egg shortage that we are now seeing is the result of not allowing LPAI vaccines. Because most poultry farmers in Bangladesh usually have small farms of only 1,000 or so chickens, they are unable to invest in bio-security measures.
As a result, in the winter influenza season, farmers face almost universal losses of poultry due to LPAI infection.
In the winter, there is less sunlight and less ultra-violet radiation, which naturally kills influenza viruses in the environment. Thus, winter months are flu season for both humans and poultry.
The prevalence of LPAI infections and mortality in poultry flocks changed the chicken and egg over-supply of 2018 to a shortage in 2019 over the course of the winter flu season.
It is obvious to everyone in the poultry industry that the current shortage of eggs and chicken cannot be resolved by regulation of prices, which is the tempting quick fix that government agencies are drawn to.
The real fix is to allow import of LPAI vaccines, and thus help stabilize the supply of chicken and eggs to the consumer.
If the supply can be ensured by better vaccination, then prices will automatically be stabilized.
Rather than pointing fingers at the poultry industry and accuse it of cartels and price fixing, the government should take the time to look in-depth at the disease problems. It should help the industry to solve these problems with an appropriate vaccination policy.
Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.