Indian eggs imported to crush Monopoly hits a snag

18 May 2023 12:00 am – 0      – 112

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  • According to sources the decision to import eggs from India was made to break the monopoly of local egg producers
  • Due to the bird flu epidemic there are concerns regarding marketing the imported Indian eggs 
  • Namakkal Egg Producers Association President K. Mohan assured that the bird flu guidelines were being strictly followed
  • When Nalin Fernando was Sathosa Chairman in 2012, eggs were imported from India
  • The import of liquid eggs without a proper inspection poses a serious health risk, as they may contain salmonella bacteria

 Imported eggs from India have begun to appear in Sri Lankan markets priced at 35 rupees per egg. Though initially intended for use only in the cake and biscuit industry, later these eggs became available to consumers as well. Importing eggs from India were intended to address a shortage of local eggs and to provide consumers with eggs at a more affordable price at a time when local eggs are sold at higher prices. According to some sources, the decision to import eggs from India was made to break the monopoly of local egg producers. While this move was seen as a positive development, some parties have raised doubts whether these goals have been achieved in a sincere manner. 

 The imported Indian eggs were brought from the Namakkal region in Tamil Nadu, where the bird flu epidemic has been severe since October 2022, according to news appearing in the Indian Express website. The Indian state produces around 60 million eggs daily, but due to the bird flu epidemic, the eggs have become unmarketable. Major poultry farm producers in Tamil Nadu requested the Central Government to find quick solutions to control the spread of bird flu. According to the Indian Express website Namakkal Egg Producers Association President K. Mohan had assured that the bird flu guidelines were being strictly followed in Namakkal farms. He had maintained that hens in Namakkal do not get infected with bird flu very often. However, bird flu outbreaks in other parts of India have an impact on poultry farms resulting in a decrease in egg exports. The website underscores that egg producers have requested the Indian Central Government to declare Namakkal as a bird flu-free egg production zone. Namakkal farms have been equipped with all the necessary facilities and sanitation measures as prescribed by the State Government. Additionally, a request has been submitted to the district administration for the same, according to K. Mohan’s statement as reported by the Indian Express website. Mohan further adds that eggs can be exported to various countries without any restrictions.

 

Namakkal Egg Producers Association President K. Mohan had assured that the bird flu guidelines were being strictly followed in Namakkal farms. He had maintained that hens in Namakkal do not get infected with bird flu very often. However, bird flu outbreaks in other parts of India have an impact on poultry farms resulting in a decrease in egg exports

It is possible that the import of Indian eggs was an attempt to show the world that bird flu does not exist in India. As per the initial statement by the Director General of the Department of Animal Production and Health, Dr. Hemali Kotalawala, the import of Indian eggs was prohibited due to the bird flu epidemic in India. However, she also clarified that there was no issue with importing eggs from other countries except India. She stated that due to the recent bird flu epidemic in India, the necessary recommendations cannot be given to the Import and Export Controller General regarding  the import of eggs. However, later on, the authorities announced that the import of Indian eggs would be permitted with certain safety measures in place. Indian eggs were eventually imported to Sri Lanka. Furthermore, there are plans to import liquid eggs as well.

Recently, the former Director of Agriculture K.B Gunaratne warned that the eggs imported from India should not be consumed until a proper inspection has been conducted and followed by a report. Gunaratne noted that there has been no public report submitted yet to prove that the bird flu virus isn’t present in the imported Indian eggs. Additionally, he pointed out that Sri Lanka lacks the technical capability to determine if liquid eggs contain any bacteria or fungi.

The country’s demand for eggs is around 7 million per day, and can reach up to 8-9 million during festive seasons; the figures revealing that there’s an annual requirement of 2900 million eggs. However, if eggs were to be used to combat malnutrition, Sri Lanka would require around 7500 million eggs annually, according to data from the Sri Lanka Medical Institute and the Ministry of Health, as pointed out by Gunaratne. Local egg producers have been attempting to meet this demand. Gunaratne pointed out that Sri Lanka exports 600,000 eggs and also chicken in accordance with international standards and emphasised that this is possible because the country is self-sufficient in producing both these products.

This is the first time that eggs have been imported into Sri Lanka in this manner. When Nalin Fernando was Sathosa Chairman in 2012, eggs were imported from India.These eggs were deemed unsuitable for sale due to their small size, unclean appearance and the spoilt condition they were in. Sathosa attempted to sell them at a discounted price of 9 rupees by transporting them to different locations using vehicles. However, the public still did not purchase them. According to Gunaratne, an investigation was carried out regards this.

There are approximately 100,000 individuals engaged in Sri Lanka’s egg and poultry industry, with 40 percent of them having left due to low selling unit prices. The cost of producing an egg in the current economic situation is around 35 rupees, and transportation costs bring the total cost to around 44-45 rupees per egg. However, producers demand a higher price because they have to pay a monthly tax of 20 million rupees to the government for the food and medicine needed for egg production. Gunaratne suggested that if the government can provide a relief regarding this tax, local eggs could be sold for 25 rupees. According to Gunaratne, the absence of a government response has led to the emergence of a local egg monopoly and an egg mafia.


“No public report has been submitted yet to prove that the bird flu virus isn’t present in the imported Indian eggs. Sri Lanka lacks the technical capability to determine if liquid eggs contain any bacteria or fungi,”
-K.B Gunaratne former
Director of Agriculture

 


 

Sri Lankans are still made to guess whether the import of Indian eggs is to tackle the egg mafia in Sri Lanka or whether the authorities want to profit from the high prising of these Indian eggs

 

At present, eggs in the Namakkal area of India are priced at 4.00-4.50 Indian rupees. When eggs were imported to Sri Lanka previously, Indian eggs were sold at a price range of 3.30- 4.00 Indian rupees. Upon arrival in Sri Lanka, an egg is priced at 15-18 rupees. The tax is one rupee. With expenses for research and other costs, an egg can be priced at around 22-25 rupees. Gunaratne raised concerns over how the price of an egg has increased to 35 rupees. As previously stated by a Ministry of Finance spokesperson an Indian egg costs approximately 28 rupees when it is imported to Sri Lanka. Even with a profit of 2 rupees, an egg can be sold for 30 rupees. Despite this, Gunaratne expressed doubt that selling an Indian egg for 35 rupees could mean additional profits for someone else.

The quality of eggs does not differ between Indian and Sri Lankan eggs as it depends on the food given to the hens. Liquid eggs are produced by removing the shell. Gunaratne added that the quality of the eggs remains intact. A good quality egg is rich in protein, minerals, and vitamins A, B, B2, and D. An average egg can weigh 48, 78 and 100 grams. An egg weighing between 48-100 contains 34-100 percent calories, 5.2-6 percent protein, and 3.7-9 percent fat. Gunaratne also emphasised that the import of liquid eggs without a proper inspection poses a serious health risk, as they may contain salmonella bacteria. Additionally, reports indicate that the imported eggs can be stored until May by using deep-freezers or cold rooms. However, in general shops, Indian eggs are not stored in such facilities, raising concerns about their potential to get spoilt and bacterial contamination. Gunaratne pointed out that if the liquid eggs brought into the country are contaminated with salmonella bacteria, it can lead to health issues such as diarrohea and dysentery for consumers.

 

Department of Animal Production and Health Director General Dr. Hemali Kotalawala has clarified that there was no issue with importing eggs from other countries except India. She stated that due to the recent bird flu epidemic in India, the necessary recommendations cannot be given to the Import and Export Controller General regarding the import of eggs

Is it true that the bird flu virus did not exist when Indian eggs were imported to Sri Lanka? And did any other viruses accompany the liquid eggs from India to Sri Lanka? These questions remain unanswered, but Minister Nalin Fernando informed the media that the appropriate authorities had authorised the distribution of Indian eggs in the market. Despite this, the Department of Animal Production and Health has not confirmed that Indian eggs are free from viruses or bacteria. As a result, Gunaratne raised concerns that there may be an ulterior motive behind the background to this aspect of the story.

In that case, it is the responsibility of the Minister of Consumer Affairs and the officials at the Department of Animal Production and Health to give assurance to the public that Indian eggs are free from any viruses or bacteria. Gunaratne has emphasised that until this assurance is provided, consumers should be cautious when consuming Indian eggs.

Rather than addressing these concerns, the Minister of Consumer Affairs is planning to import an additional 3 million eggs and chicken from India. While there is nothing wrong with importing eggs and meat to destroy the egg mafia, it is crucial that there is transparency regarding the quality and pricing of these products. Gunaratne warned that if bird flu and other virus enter Sri Lanka it could worsen the situation and that nobody would be held accountable for the consequences.

We attempted to contact Minister of Trade, Commerce and Food Security Nalin Fernando, but there was no response. However, the minister’s media unit confirmed that the Animal Production and Health Department had authorised the release of Indian eggs to the market and advised to contact the Animal Production and Health Department regarding questions related to the presence of bird flu virus in the imported eggs.

To inquire into the purchasing price of Indian eggs and the total cost- including research fees- the institute responsible in importing eggs which is the State Trading Corporation was contacted. A spokesperson stated that only its Chairman Asiri Valisundara, could provide a statement regarding the matter and provided a mobile phone number. Several attempts made to contact him between April 4-6 provided no responses.

This newspaper  attempted to contact Minister of Agriculture Mahinda Amaraweera to make inquiries regarding this matter on April 6, but these attempts proved futile.

This writer made several attempts to reach out to Animal Production and Health Department Director General Hemali  Kothalawala, via phone. The response from her office was that she was overseas at the time this scribe called her. This newspaper then followed it up with a request via the right to information facility, but that too hadn’t produced any response till this edition went to press.

We attempted to contact Shanta Niriella, Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority, to confirm whether the Indian eggs provided to consumers were free of the bird flu virus. However, our inquiries made on April 6 produced no answers.

Our attempts made to obtain information regarding these issues by contacting M P B Athapattu, Secretary of the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, on April 6 produced no responses either.


Why import eggs from India?

The eggs imported from India will be used in the bakery and hotel industries. The renowned Chef of Mount Lavinia Hotel Pubilis Silva has also aired his views on these imported eggs.  Producers in the bakery and hotel industries have maintained that the Indian eggs are of low quality. Those in the bakery industry have warned that products made from these eggs would be of inferior quality.

The Animal Products and Health Department of Gannoruwa confirmed with this newspaper that these imported eggs fall into the third category. Though this newspaper made attempts to obtain information regarding these eggs through the Right to Information application there has been no response. A source from the Gannoruwa  Animal Products and Health Department said that promotions within the department are influenced by local egg merchants. Hence the individuals who get promoted within the department using such influence have to cater to the interest of these eggs merchants. The Ministry of Finance maintains that an Indian egg is imported at cost of Rs 28. Such an egg can be sold at Rs 30 after which there will be a profit of Rs 2. However the authorities don’t know who benefits from a Rs 5 profit margin when an Indian egg is sold at Rs 35. Arrangements were made to sell the imported eggs in Western Province. But the latest news reaching us reveals that these eggs will be sold only in the Colombo District. Plans are afoot to import around 100,000 India eggs to Sri Lanka. But the islanders are at a lost to understand whether this attempt made through the import of Indian eggs is to tackle the egg mafia existing in Sri Lanka or whether the authorities want to continue benefitting from the Rs 5 profit these Indian eggs bring through a high pricing system.

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