Avian Influenza
Land of chicken tikka butter masala in flap over bird flu
Feb 22, 2006 - 3:24:37 PM

To eat or not to eat chicken these days is the million-dollar question for people in Punjab, India - traditionally known as the land of butter and tandoori chicken.

Chicken sales across Punjab have dropped 30-50 percent in the last three days since reports of avian flu in chicken in a Maharashtra village. Chicken rates have dropped too - from Rs.75 (USD 1.50) to Rs.65 (USD 1.30) per kg in the retail market.

For a state that gave the famous chicken tikka butter masala to the British - being voted as the most popular dish in that country in the last five years - the bird flu scare could surely change eating habits for sometime.

Even though dhaba (roadside eateries) and restaurant owners continue to display chicken - hanging them on a seekh (iron rod) after marinating them to tempt customers - many people are now wary.

"I don't want to take any chances. It's better to wait for some days rather than be affected by the disease," said Jalandhar-based exporter Kulbhushan Sharma, whose house is close to one of the popular chicken joints of the city that sells chicken delicacies.

But there are others like Amar Bedi from Chandigarh for whom it does not matter as long as the chicken is properly cooked.

"There is no reason to be afraid if the chicken is well-cooked. Anyways, people are going to eat it. I can't imagine Punjab going chicken-less because of the scare," Bedi said.

Even though Punjab Animal Husbandry Minister Jagmohan Singh Kang and department officials are painting an "all-clear" picture, sales of chicken and eggs have taken a nosedive.

Tandoori chicken, especially, is likely to take a beating in the next few days with doctors saying that its cooking - in a tandoor (earthen oven) - may not eliminate the risk of bird flu.

"Chicken should be cooked at over 70 degree centigrade to rule out bird flu disease. In tandoori chicken, some parts remains pink even after roasting it and that could be dangerous. Butter chicken is cooked at a higher temperature and in hot gravy and that is more safe," a government doctor said here.

Chicken corners in Punjab and state capital Chandigarh are already facing reduced sales in the last two days.

"We will have to dump some stocks as sales have come down 30 percent in just two days. In this season of weddings, the bird flu scare has come as a blow to business," said chicken shop owner Kaka Singh.

Even for the diehard chicken-only eaters, the bird flu scare has taken its toll.

"People who come to our restaurant first ask whether the chicken is safe and well cooked. This is just to assure themselves. I hope this scare phase is over soon," said a leading chicken shop owner in this city's Sector 22.

Surjit Singh, general secretary of the North Zone Broiler Breeders Association, said that chicken in Punjab was cooked well in heat and was absolutely safe.

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