India’s Growing Appetite for Chicken

India’s Growing Appetite for Chicken

Broiler chicks by the thousands

Over the last couple of decades, India’s poultry sector has intensified, and demand for chicken meat and eggs has grown steadily, particularly in urban areas. Ghazipur wholesale market, located just outside the nation’s capital of New Delhi, is where most of the chickens slated for consumption are sold. Approximately 100,000 bird are slaughtered there daily.

There is also a growth in packaged fresh and frozen chicken meat found in the city’s supermarkets. Nutrich “Hygienic Chicken” is one such brand that is targeting more affluent consumers and can be found in Wal-Mart and Reliance, a local grocery chain.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to witness various stages of bringing this chicken meat to store shelf. The feed mill that supplies the chicken feed is the largest in India, packaging 10,000 tons of grain a month. It is the first automated batch plant mixing different formulas for each stage of the chicken’s brief life. The plant is located in Haryana, a big agricultural area known for rice, wheat, sugarcane and mustard. The two main feed ingredients, however, are corn and soya, which are primarily grown in Rajasthan, Bihar and also in some southern states. The rising cost of feed is strongly felt by the poultry industry.

A warehouse full of grain for chickens
Grain for chickens

Providing feed and water at the broiler chicken farms is done manually and not automated. Laborers are often provided housing on the farm and live with their families. Many of the workers we met have migrated from poorer regions like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal, and return home once a year.

At the broiler farms in Haryana, the chickens are housed by the thousands in sheds. In the wintertime it takes 30-40 days for them to reach 2 kg, the weight at which they are normally slaughtered. In the summer time, weight gain is slower and they usually only reach 1.8 kg at 42 days.

The birds are normally transported at night to the slaughterhouse. I visited the Nutrich processing plant right after landing in Delhi. I arrived too late to see the early stages of the process (live transport, stunning, throat cutting, scalding and defeathering), but evisceration (removal of internal organs), deskinning, chilling, chopping and packaging were all taking place.

The workers who are in direct contact with the birds (who perform live transport and evisceration) live in accommodation provided by the slaughterhouse. Their health is also monitored. Many of these workers have migrated from Nepal and return home once a year. On the processing and packaging floor, over half the workers are women who live locally. To enter the plant we had to wear a shower cap, shoe covers, a lab coat and face mask, which was the standard uniform for all the workers.

The plant uses 80,000-90,000 liters of water per day for scalding, defeathering, washing, freezing and has its own wastewater treatment plant, and the effluent will then go into the municipal treatment plant.

Chickens on the line
Chicken processing

This modern abattoir which slaughters 8,000 birds a day, in contrast to Ghazipur market, where birds are killed manually in the hot open air, with blood everywhere, is more costly (more labor, electricity, water, refrigeration, packaging) and the final product costs more than the birds sold at Ghazipur. Last year, Ghazipur was severely affected by a bird flu scare in Haryana. Live markets in India have been under attacked on the grounds of hygiene and inhumane slaughter conditions.

Will processing plants replace live markets, which are the primary seller of chicken meat, and what are the implications? With the rising cost of feed and threat of disease, I’ve been wondering whether consumption of chicken meat will continue to grow in India. Will people pay more for processed chicken or will they opt to leave it off their plate entirely?

Access to the production and processing facilities described here was generously facilitated by Nitin Goel of the Humane Society International (HSI), who is working on factory farming issues related to chickens in India. To learn more about HSI’s work in India, click here.

Photo Courtesy of Wan Park/Humane Society International