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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Panicky city chickens out fast

Calcutta, Feb. 19: Caterer Arup Ghosh hadn’t seen the papers when his mobile rang this morning. The caller was to the point: cancel the chicken butter masala; serve fish instead.

“I had already sent my men to the market since the party was for this evening. The entire order for chicken had to be cancelled,” the owner of Continental Caterer rued.

He isn’t the only one dreading what the bird flu scare might do to his business.

Shaken over their morning cups by reports of the virus being detected in Maharashtra, Calcuttans reacted quickly, many of them taking the bird off their Sunday lunch menu.

“Chicken sales fell by 25 to 35 per cent across the city today. There’s clearly a panic,” said P.K. Roy, managing director of Arambagh Hatcheries.

He said that on a normal Sunday, 2 lakh chicken are sold in Calcutta and another 2 lakh in the districts. Today’s sales figures from the districts weren’t available yet.

The price of chicken (Rs 50-55 a kg) hasn’t fallen yet, nor has that of mutton (Rs 170 a kg) shot up, but the industry fears both would happen in a day or two.

“Some four to five major poultry owners met to discuss the situation today,” the Arambagh MD said. Some who attended the meeting said they would wait for a day or two before deciding what to do next.

Disappointed retail sellers, however, closed shop early and went home.

“I sell Rs 5,000 worth of chicken on Sundays, but today I hardly did Rs 2,000. Even the roadside food vendors didn’t turn up,” grumbled Babun Bakshi at Gariahat Market.

New Market, Lake Market and Sealdah, too, were left reeling.

“People just wouldn’t buy. The panic came so fast, we didn’t have time to prepare ourselves for the assault,” said Ajit Saha at Lake Market.

Those who called up caterers to switch from chicken to other dishes hurt their own pockets, too.

“There was an order for 160 plates'. The client replaced the chicken order with bhetki. This means every plate would cost Rs 20 more,” said Bhaskar Bose of Bose’s Kitchen.

Other caterers said a switch to katla would cost an extra Rs 12 per plate, and one to mutton around Rs 15.

Bengal’s poultries raise about 25 lakh broilers every week, of which 15 lakh are sold in Calcutta and its suburbs.

The state government today issued guidelines for early detection of the flu, informing poultry owners about the symptoms and telling them to send serum samples for laboratory tests if five or more birds die in their farms.

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