One of the most important reports to come out in the last few years is the August 2017 CSIR-NEERI report on poultry farms in India. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) is an excellent scientific research institution. When I was Minister for the Environment I used them as my resource base.
The report has been done by a team of 8 scientists headed by Dr Rakesh Kumar the Director of NEERI, and SK Goyal the Senior Principal Scientist. Poultry farming means raising domestic fowls, including chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks for the production of meat and/or eggs. The total poultry population in India is 729.2million, which is 12.39 per cent higher than numbers in the previous census (Livestock Census, 2012).
The most common poultry breeds in India are: Broilers: Young males and females raised for meat. They grow from a hatch weight of 40 g to a weight of approximately 1.5 to 2 kg within 6 weeks only. Layers: Hens used for commercial egg production and then killed for meat. Layer chickens are raised from one day old. They start laying eggs at the age of 18- 19 weeks and continue till they are 72- 78 weeks of age. In nature, chickens exhibit a range of behaviour, including nesting, dustbathing, perching and roosting, scratching and foraging. Foraging is important as hens prefer to find their own plants, insects and seeds rather than take from a feeder. Chickens dust-bathe to balance oil levels in their feathers.
Nesting behaviour is triggered with a sudden rise in progesterone hormones. The need is so strong that a hen will push through a heavy swing-door to get to a nest box. They need regular movement and exercise to stay healthy. The space requirements of hens range from 475 square cm while standing, to 1150 sq cm while preening, to 1873 sq cm for flapping wings. On an average, if a chicken is to be healthy it needs a minimum of 5000 square centimetres.
The Bureau of Indian Standards, which is the most unscientific and outdated body in India, recommended 450 sq cm which is not practical for a hen even when she is resting. Poultries in India have followed this vicious and illiterate measurement. This is the reason why hens need antibiotics all the time and why people who eat chicken get ill so often. “Caged hens are more fearful than those kept in cage free environments.
Small size of the cage, sloping wire floor, lack of nest boxes or perches and close proximity of other birds etc. results in suffering to the birds. Some of the serious issues with caged system are: Cage layer fatigue, beak trimming, forced moulting, transport, Fatty Liver Haemorrhagic Syndrome, osteoporosis, foot disorders, lesions and reproductive problems.” In short, hens caged in this tiny space of less than A 4 square sheet of paper, called the battery cage, get sick. Studies show that even increasing the space, from about 300 square cm to 650 per bird, increases egg production, food consumption, enhances body weight and decreases mortality.
As of now, the eggs and meat you get from poultries are from very sick birds. So, the government allowed the use of antibiotics to keep them alive till they laid the required number of eggs, or reached the desired weight before being killed. “Antibiotics have been routinely used in poultry production without proper regulatory limits. This unregulated use of antibiotics poses a serious threat of antibiotic resistance, affecting the health of consumers.”
On 3 June, 2014, the Department of Animal Husbandry, Ministry of Agriculture wrote a letter to all Directors/Commissioners of State Animal Husbandry Departments, advising controlled use of antibiotics in treatment of food producing animals and in animal feed. The Directorate General of Health Services, on 6 June, 2014, reiterated the directions to the State Drug Controllers. It has made no difference. In fact, antibiotic use has increased in poultries.
NEERI says “Arsenic is fed to chickens to promote growth and weight gain with less feed. The long term exposure of arsenic can cause cancer. Growth hormones given to the fowls are another issue related to the health of the consumers.” NEERI investigated the environmental problems related to poultry farming with respect to air, water and soil pollution. “Poultry production is associated with a variety of environmental pollutants like ammonia, solids, nutrients (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus), pathogens, trace elements, antibiotics, pesticides, hormones and airborne bacteria. Besides, poultries attract flies, rodents, and other pests that carry diseases.
Poor management of manure, litter, and wastewater, adversely affects the environment. Besides, odour emissions from poultry farms generated from fresh and decomposing waste products, such as manure, carcasses, feathers and bedding litter and housefly infestation, affect the life of people living in the vicinity. Furthermore, intensive poultry production may be responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases, acidification, and eutrophication”.
The scientists and the local Pollution Control Board visited six caged poultry farms and one cage free farm during February to May 2017: Water samples were collected from bore wells. Excreta samples were collected as this is used as manure in the fields. Air samples were collected from indoors and outdoors within the poultry. Feed grain samples were collected.
All farms with caged birds were found with similar poultry practices, therefore these are the observations: There are approximately 60,000- 70,000birds in each farm. There are 3- 8 sheds in each farm and each shed has three to four racks. Each rack has a length of 180 or 200 ft and each cage has a dimension of14”x 18” x 15”. Each cage houses 3-4 hens, which is insufficient and uncomfortable for them. The hens are unable to stand properly and stretch their wings. The hens are fed a mixture of grains and marble dust.
Each poultry farm had an unbearable odour due to the slurry formed at the bottom of each shed because of excreta, feathers, waste water,feed-wastes, dead hens. There was improper management, ventilation and aeration. According to the staff, the excreta slurry is sold every four to five months to local farmers.
A heavy formation of spider webs was seen in the sheds. Abnormality in the neck and foul smell from the hens was seen. Hens have to put their head and neck out of cage to feed and the wires scrape their necks creating lesions of which the staff were unaware. Stains of blood were observed on egg shells. Dead hens are thrown into a 20 ft pit and acid or salt is added over them. Subsequently, they visited the cage free poultry. There were 30,000-35,000 birds in deep-litter housing, with adequate space, proper ventilation, abundant sunshine, fan and water sprinkling system to control temperature conditions in summers.
“The birds are able to express their natural behaviour like scratching, perching, dust bathing etc. The farm is found to be neat and clean. No odour and litter problem was observed in the farm in contrast to the battery cage farms. No mites and webs were observed.” “Each chick had 464.5 cm sq of space. Adult birds are allotted 2.5-3 sqft (2322.5 cmsq) of area each. Plastic feeders and water are placed in the housing and a 1.5 inch thick saw dust or rice husk layer is placed on the floor” What did the ground water samples show from the caged poultries? Nitrates should be less than 45 milligrams per litre. Here it ranged from 60-171. Total dissolved solids (TDS) should be 500.It ranged from 753-1150. Organic phosphates shouldn’t be there at all.
Here they were 0.76 – 0.80. Sulphates should be below 200. They went up to 286. Arsenic, Chromium, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Lead and Zinc are heavy metals that should not be in food. Lead, for instance, gives everything, from mental retardation to cancer. The maximum tolerable level is 10 milligrams per kilogram. The poultries went from 10.1 to16.8 mg/kg in the feed grains and 13- 33 mg/kg in the excreta slurry. There should be no arsenic in the excreta slurry. NEERI found 0.2 milligrams per kg. Chromium levels were at 200-220 mg/kg . Iron levels exceeded the 500 limit going up to 597. In microbiology a CFU is a colony forming unit which is a unit that estimates the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.
What bacterial load did the air have? There are no parameters made in India. Europe allows for a maximum of 10,000 cfu per cubic metre.The air inside the sheds was 650,000 cfu, and even more outside, making it deadly to breathe. What did NEERI conclude? “The condition of closed-cage poultry farms is very poor when compared to cage-free poultry system. Odour generation and mites in the farms are two major problems in closed-caged system, which is not observed in cage-free system. Consumption of contaminated food from unhygienic poultry farms may result in diseases in humans due to Salmonella, E.coli and Campylobacter.
Based on the analysis of both the types, the following recommendations are made: Layered battery-cage systems should be replaced with cage-free housing and a fine should be levied on all poultries that do not make the change. The cage free housing must be such that it allows the birds to stand up straight, stretch their wings fully and provide reasonable opportunity of movement. Additionally, birds are to be provided without door access.
All new poultry farm should follow cage-free system. Concerned licensing departments should be instructed in this regard. The farm owner or the operator should ensure that the maximum housing density is not exceeded. Records of the floor area available to chickens, number of birds in the shed and the daily mortality, should be properly maintained. Cleanliness should be ensured.
Heavy spider webs, house-fly infestation, undisposed manure, odour from manure in the sheds and feed godowns of poultry farms indicate poor hygiene and attract mites, lice and parasites causing intestinal and skin infections. Outbreaks of bacterial, viral, fungal and communicable diseases, like Avian Influenza, Pox, Pasteurella, Coryza, Aspergillos is, become inevitable.
Farmers use the excreta as manure in the agriculture fields. Its toxicity should be tested before use. Use of formaldehyde for disinfection purposes should be documented because of its carcinogenic nature even with exposure in low concentrations. Residents living in the vicinity of poultry farms are prone to catch the bacterial and viral infections. It is recommended that guidelines be framed to define the placement of poultry farms. Existing laws and policies against animal cruelty should be re-evaluated on a stricter note and brought into action.
Regulations regarding the use of antibiotics must be made and their implementation ensured by the Government. Annual or six-monthly trainings maybe imparted by Central Avian Research Institute and Indian Council for Agricultural Research to poultry managers, staff, to practice good management in the poultry farms .”
This report is lying with the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture. None of their officers seem to care about the health of humans or animals.
(To join the animal welfare movement, contact [email protected], www.peopleforanimalsindia.org)