Volume 7, No. 4, April. 2006


Bird Flu Hype & the Gigantic Indian Poultry Market

On TVs, radios, newspapers screamed day-and-night about the horrors of a pandemic of bird flu. For nearly a fortnight this was the main item and the scare beat even the ‘terrorist’ scare of the Varanasi bomb blast. One TV channel, interviewing a lady from AP, said that her two relatives died immediately after consuming eggs, while they were perfectly fit earlier. A reputable business magazine screamed on the cover “50 million dead; is India Prepared”. Immediately chicken and eggs were taken off the menu of government offices, armed forces, railways and even the parliament. Paranoia was spread across the country (as it has earlier been spread across the world) of a bird flu attack that could kill millions. The same business magazine (Business & Economy) said that it “could kill between 5 to 150 million human beings even before any control mechanism starts to succeed”.
All this propaganda has been a gigantic hoax. Not even one of the 95 patients who were suspected to have the H5N1 virus tested positive for bird flu. The chicken that died supposedly of bird flu was confined to a small area of Navapur in Nandurbar district of Maharashtra. Even this is being disputed by the NECC (National Egg Coordination Committee). Chicken blood samples first tested in a Pune laboratory showed no strains of the H5N1 virus. Finally it was ‘proven’ by a laboratory in Bhopal; but mysteriously the samples that were to be sent to a London laboratory were never followed up.
Most villagers know the dangers of rearing chicken. Poultry farms have strict hygiene conditions to prevent the attack of the Ranikhet disease. Once hit by the disease chicken on the entire farm die over-night. Even entire villages lose their entire chicken due to this disease. This has been going on for years. Earlier the local strains of chicken were more resistant to disease; but with the onset of broilers they have become more prone and the attacks more regular. So the death of chicken in large numbers need not be the bird flu and could be due to the normal Ranikhet disease. But in the entire media hysteria it was barely mentioned and made out such large numbers of dead chicken could only be bird flu. Though the Agricultural minister agreed to have fresh samples tested at two Indian laboratories and one foreign one, the final conclusion was drawn only from the Bhopal tests.
One has to assess the events and media hype in the background of two very important factors — the gigantic Indian poultry market of Rs.35,000 crores, and the aggressive pushing of the vaccine and drug for bird flu monopolized by a US pharmacy company.
First the market! The US has been desperate to enter the Indian poultry market for long which is dominated by small producers and the Rs.1,300 crore Pune-based Venkateshwara Hatcheries. In the early 1990s US chicken were all set to enter the Indian market. It was said that these hormone induce 5-8 kg chicken would be sold as cheap as Rs.20 per kg. This would have wiped out a vast section of the small producer and depressed prices for the ordinary farmer, most of whom who breed some chicken. Finally it was stopped due to strong opposition by the poultry produ-cers in India and particularly Venkateshwara Hatcheries. Not surprisingly in this entire episode Venkateshwara Hatcheries has been targeted and accused while the government has signed an agreement with Bush to open up Indian markets for agricultural goods and poultry.
The Navapur poultry farms were mostly linked to Venkateshwara Hatcheries. There are 52 registered farms here with 12 lakh birds and another 100 unregistered ones. Small farms have just 100 to 200 birds. Navapur is the second biggest poultry farm industry after Pune and the mainstay of the local economy. They employ over 5,000 workers. The government spree of destruction did not distinguish between infected farms and others and destroyed 3 lakh chicken and 6 lakh eggs. In the first few days of the scare the poultry industry suffered losses of over Rs.1,100 crores mostly due to the countrywide scare and all workers lost their employment. Having successfully hit the industry and the vast small producers it will help clear the path for the entry of big US fowls.
Now if we turn to the US pharma mafia we will find a big conspiracy to push the drug. Firstly it must be known that the H5N1 is the deadliest of the 144 known strains of the influenza A virus, most of which have existed in harmless form in wild fowls for centuries. It was probably introduced to local poultry by migratory birds and mutated in crowded poultry-rearing conditions. The virus ONLY spreads to humans through physical contact with the infected birds and their excreta — IT DOES NOT SPREAD FROM HUMAN TO HUMAN. That is why for all the massive international media hype there have been a mere 170 cases of bird flu worldwide and just 92 deaths as of today.
The only antiviral drug is Tamiflu, which itself is only partially effective with dangerous side-effects. And the only company that owns the rights to this drug is the California biotech company Gilead Sciences. A major stake holder in this company is none other that the US defence Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld. According to Fortune Rumsfeld holds a stake in of around $25 million. In the last few months the bird flu scare and the big purchases by various governments has pushed the share value up a massive 29%. This made the Pentagon chief, already one of the richest members of the Bush cabinet, wealthier by at least $ 1 million. India too has stockpiled 10 lakh doses of Tamiflu.
In a country like India which has one of the poorest public health care systems in the world with lakhs dying each year of malaria, TB, diarrhea, etc (not to mention starvation and suicide deaths) this bird flu scare where not even one person has died is merely a media myth helping create the proper atmosphere for the sale of US pharma company drugs. In fact today the health situation of the country has so deteriorated that the number of poor who do not seek treatment for financial reasons has increased from 15 to 24% in the rural areas and 10 to 21% in the urban areas in the decade from 1986 to 1996.
The people of the country must vehem-ently oppose the imperialist/comprador scheming, and support the small producers struggle against the entry of US poultry into our country(which will also be hazardous to public health as it will contain high doses of preservatives in order to be able to sell after long transport time and also contain large hormone content to fatten it). We must also expose the conspiracy of these multinational pharma companies who are destroying our people with the help of their Indian compradors in order to make super-profits out of people’s suffering.



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