Kashmir is a large market for meat and poultry, even the spent hen find buyers here. Abdul Mohamin reports.
With the highest per capita meat consumption in India, Kashmir is a ready market for mutton and chicken. Fifteen per cent of the one lakh chicken consumed in the valley everyday comprise of the spent layers.
Though spent hen are considered less nutritious and believed to possess high drug load besides carrier of several diseases, spent hens here find lot of customers. Apart from being low priced as compared to broiler chicken, it is preffered for its hardness which gels well with many traditional Kashmiri dishes.
The poultry entrepreneurs in north Indian states sell the spent hens (layers) stock at throw away prices after these complete the egg laying age of 60 to 70 weeks.
The traders say that the spent hen imports are very low but the people in the poultry rearing business say that almost 15 percent of the one lakh poultry birds consumed in the valley are spent layers.
President, Kashmir Valley Poultry Farmers Association, GM Bhat, wants a complete ban on import of spent layers as these can be carrying different diseases and is used as dog food outside.
“In many developed countries they are not even recommended as dog food as a fear of transmitting disease to dogs and are used to churn compost by scientific procedure, but here we are consuming them without any concern and even our plea to ban them here is not being heard,” he said adding that earlier a ban was enforced, but later it got removed because of political pressure from different quarters.
Bhat said that the veterinarians too seem to hold different opinions on this issue.
Dr GM Bhat, head of the poultry research at SK University of Agricultural Science and Technology –Kashmir says that spent hen is “safe and nutritious” and complies with the same safety standards as any other chicken sold in the market and there is nothing to worry on this issue.
“Use of medicines are stopped earlier, and our assessment is they are safe for consumption,” said Dr Bhat.
However, chief animal husbanday officer with the Animal Husbanday department Dr N D A Reshi said that stuff surely has a poor nutritional value and given the rearing methods that are employed in this egg industry, the birds live in a stressful atmosphere and given the medication they are used to in their egg laying age their drug load is always high and the taste is very poor.
In Kashmir ‘backyard poultry’ was vital part of animal rearing practice here and many in villages used to consume poultry including a spent hen and this practice was common whenever a guest arrived, laying a strong foundation for consuming aged birds.
However the expert said that there is lot of difference between what was reared in the backyard to what tough conditions the layers have to go through before making to shops here, making the spent hen almost “unfeasible” for human consumption.
A veterinarian who did not want to be named said that many eateries and hotels use this stuff regularly thus maintaining imports. He said that economic status of people here and in other Indian states does not allow us to follow procedures adopted in developed countries.
He said that during one of his posting outside valley he found that many poor people would even consume the dead birds.
Many vets feel that the imports are highly beneficial to the egg industry in northern India as they reap good benefits for their exhausted stock by selling them to dealers here who get the birds at Rs 20 to 30. Spent hens of two types reach Kashmir markets, the majority being the egg laying stock replacement, while the second is sourced from the broiler parent stock where the hens later end up as meat.
The broiler spent hens are the very big and can weigh up to six kilograms and this stock is mostly sold on roadside markets with turkey sized stuff. The hens are raised only to produce eggs for hatcheries and mostly suffer with arthritis due to increased weight.