Pigs have always been outcasts. The hungry scavengers have been loathed by religions, sects and rulers for thousands of years. But none could prevent mankind from eating bacons and sausages every morning - except for swine flu.
The raging swine flu epidemic has spelt doom for pig breeders across the country with demand for pork falling a steep 50 per cent over the past two months. Prices have slid as much as Rs 35 a kilo from Rs 100 over the last couple of weeks, even as animal husbandry officials are crying hoarse that swine flu is not contractable eating pork.
"There is no link, whatsoever, between H1N1 (swine flu) virus and pork. The World Health Organisation too has clarified that swine flu has got nothing to do with pigs. There has been only two cases of pigs catching flu - one each in Argentina and Canada. Both the pigs died after contacting the virus from their human handlers," said a senior livestock health official of Animal Husbandry Department, New Delhi.
But pork-lovers still have their reservations ordering a plate of hot ‘n’ tangy pork vindaloo or a few sausages from their neighbourhood eatery. "There is a sharp downfall in demand right from April. At the behest of local authorities, we closed down our farm last week. As of now, we only have small breeding stock," said Balasaheb Jadhav, proprietor of the Pune-based Mayur Piggery Farm.
Pig breeding is an important vocation in rural Andhra Pradesh, north-eastern states (especially Meghalaya), interior Maharashtra, south Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, reports The Economic Times. While pork is not exported in a major way, it is the staple food (and easy replacement to the more exotic-but-light chicken) for many in the country. A full-grown pig (aged 10 months and above) is more of a ‘cash cow’ for breeders. Fully grown pigs yield about 140 kg of meat and are generally sold at about Rs 100 per kg.
"Prices have come down sharply; now we charge only Rs 70 for kg. But being a wholesaler, our orders are fairly the same," said G Ranga Prabhu, a breeder in Theni, Tamil Nadu.
According to Genes Kalathil, owner of Kalathil Frozen Meat Products in Kottayam, Kerala, people are preferring chicken, beef (buffalo meat) and mutton to pork. "Pork is an inseparable fare in traditional Kerala Christian marriages. But with swine flu doing the rounds, people are opting for chicken and beef dishes," Mr Kalathil said.
Pig breeders in other parts of the country are also realigning their farm models to make more space for chicken. Many have already converted their pig-sty space to rooster coups to make good the loss. "This is the only way farmers who have taken loans can survive. Farmers are offloading pig stocks at record low prices to reduce loss," Mr Jadhav of Mayur Piggery Farm said. According to husbandry department officials, there are several farmers in the country who have taken loans in the range of Rs 5 to Rs 10 lakh to start small-sized pig farms.
While the rural poor lives in the illusory fear of catching swine flu from pork, the urbane affluent class still finds delectable taste in pork. "There are no suspected or proven implications between eating pork or red meat and the swine flu virus. Our guests continue to enjoy bacon and sausages for breakfast each morning and our supply orders remain unchanged," said Christopher Newbery, general manager, The Leela Kempinski, Mumbai. The Leela — like most five-star hotels — import pork from overseas.
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