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Chicken rate runs riot

The price of chicken refused to climb down from its high perch (Rs 180-200 a kilo) despite the government’s hard-boiled attempt to arrest its rise.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee chaired a series of meetings with market representatives and officials to find ways to keep the price of dressed chicken below Rs 150 a kg. The administration has opened kiosks selling the meateater’s favourite bird at Rs 150 a kg but the counters were generating more curiosity than sales.

The runaway rooster rates had been attributed to escalating chicken feed prices across the country because of which poultry farmers weren’t being able to supply and demand on an even keel. Calcutta consumes 3lakh kg of chicken on weekdays and over 7lakh kg on Sundays.

On Thursday, representatives of the special task force to control prices of essential commodities asked agricultural marketing minister Arup Roy to lift the state tax on poultry feed.

They said retailers were unable to sell chicken at Rs 150 a kg because they were buying from wholesellers at a much higher rate. Wholesellers, on the other hand, claimed that farms were charging more because of the “stiff feed tax”.

A broiler chicken reared mainly for the food plate grows to weigh between 1kg and 1.5kg in 30 to 35 days. “A single, healthy bird needs anything between 500gm and 750gm of feed because it eats round the clock without stopping,” said Madan Mohan Maity of the West Bengal Poultry Federation.

Feed prices had increased by Re 1 per kg and it’s continuing to rise. “This means an additional cost of Rs 15 to Rs 18 per bird,” Maity said.

The current supply shortfall, which began in April, is almost 30 per cent.

The result: the city’s biggest poultry wholesale hub New Market is getting 70 truckloads of chicken instead of the regular supply of 100 lorries. The smaller varieties sold at Rs 117 (wholesale) while the bigger ones fetched Rs 101 per kg at New Market.

A poultry expert from Arambagh Hatchery Limited said a combination of factors have conspired to push up chicken prices.

A former veterinarian of the animal resources department agreed. “Other than chicken feed becoming more expensive, the weather played foul too. Sudden temperature changes can put chicken rearing in the red. We are experiencing extreme weather fluctuations this year. A lot of backyard poultry farms have reported 20 to 25 per cent casualties this season because of the fickle weather,” he said.

Experts factored in the transportation cost that has doubled in the past three years because of the diesel price hike. Calcutta gets its chicken mostly from farms in the North and South 24-Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly.

“Market forces have pushed the prices up. The CM wants us to bring the rate down. It is easier said than done unless the root cause of the problem is addressed,” said an owner of a hatchery in North 24-Parganas.

So who is paying the price? Small-time retailers such as Barkat Ali Mondal in New Market and homemakers like Bishakha Dey of Bhowanipore.

“Last Sunday’s sales volume dipped by at least 30 per cent. It dipped more on weekdays. My regular customers are buying half of what they used to buy,” Mondal said.

From curry to roast, the bird tickled the palate in diverse forms at Bishakha’s home until prices soared. “My seven-year-old son wants at least one chicken dish every day. Now we have chicken four days a week,” she said.

D.N. Ghosh of Rashbehari Avenue said: “I bought chicken at Rs 85 a kg till December. The prices have doubled in about six months.”