- SLVA urges the government to follow protocol and import eggs strictly from DAP&H-approved nations.
- As eggs imported from DAP&H-approved countries may come with a higher price point SLVA urges the government to intervene and minimize costs to the consumer.
- SLVA urges the government to not move forward with policy decisions that may further hamper the business operations of the industry.
Domestic prices of eggs in Sri Lanka rose steeply following the rapid depreciation of the rupee and the disruption of farming due to price controls. In this context, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the importation of eggs without restrictions to ensure affordability to the general public. However, The Sri Lanka Veterinary Association (SLVA) would like to stress that while this policy measure has been implemented with good intentions, resorting to importing eggs from non-bird-flu-free nations, which have had bird-flu outbreaks in the last six months will have dire consequences as the move will risk the avian influenza virus entering and spreading in the island which is currently bird-flu free.
“Sri Lanka is a country free from bird flu. Due to this move, there is a high chance of it spreading here. Sri Lanka is in the process of exploring its poultry-exporting markets, spread of bird flu in the country will be a major factor in our export market contracting further,” Sri Lanka Veterinary Association President Dr Dilan Satharasinghe previously reiterated. Sri Lanka’s bird flu-free status has given the island a competitive edge in global poultry export markets. This reputation can undoubtedly help drive Sri Lanka as a leading poultry exporter in the region and globally. Risking this opportunity will not only hamper the industry but also a much-needed avenue through which Sri Lanka can earn much-needed foreign exchange.
It is important to note that the Department of Animal Production and Health (DAP&H) which works closely with the SLVA, having recognized the risks, is yet to approve the importation of eggs from non-bird-flu-free nations. Giving priority to the aforementioned risks, The Department has advised the government to import eggs only from bird-flue-free nations such as Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and the USA. Under Sri Lanka’s Animal Disease Act, the Director General of the DAPH holds the power to provide import licenses to importers of animal-origin products. The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH), the global authority on animal health too has declared the Director General of DAP&H to be the local focal point in such matters. The DG is required to base its decisions on data published by the world animal health information system, WOAH’s database. Therefore, such decisions are independent and non-biased. Therefore, the SLVA urges the government to follow protocol and import eggs strictly from nations the DAP&H has approved.
Further, given Sri Lanka’s current economic conditions, the SLVA believes that the country does not have the fiscal capacity to counter the spread of bird flu. Therefore, the government should take any and all measures to prevent such disastrous circumstances.
Sri Lanka’s poultry industry has achieved high standards and by 2020 the industry produced nearly 3 billion eggs and over 236,00 metric tons of chicken meat making the country self-sufficient in the production of valuable protein sources essential for human consumption. Further, the industry has not only generated Rs 20 billion in direct tax revenue for the country but has also generated a number of direct and indirect self-employment opportunities. Therefore, the SLVA urges the government to not move forward with policy decisions that may seriously hamper the business operations of the industry which is already struggling due to high costs of production, price controls and inability to meet domestic consumer demand.
At this juncture as the supreme professional association that represents the veterinary field in Sri Lanka, we propose the following recommendations for policymakers to counter this debacle :
- Short term – Import eggs from bird flu-free nations as per DAP&H regulations. However, given that eggs imported from DAP&H-recommended bird flu-free nations might be costly, the government should intervene and ensure affordability to consumers through subsidies. We believe this would be more cost effective to the government than providing compensation to island-wide farmers, possible job losses and related socio-economic costs in the event of a rapid bird flu outbreak in the country.
- Medium-term – Considering the existing shortage of commercial layer birds, the DAP&H approved the importation of hatching eggs from bird flu-free nations last December. The government should sustain this policy measure, as chicks produced by imported hatching eggs will start to lay eggs in 4-5 months after hatching. This will contribute to meeting the local demand for eggs.
- Long-term – Cost and availability of poultry feed play a significant role in reducing cost per egg as poultry feed represents about 80% of total production cost. Therefore, the government has to take measures to facilitate the cultivation of raw materials of poultry feed such as maize, rice and its by-products. Based on the annual local requirement, the balance has to be imported regularly to avoid shortages in the market. Providing reasonable tax concessions on input material too will help sustain the availability of poultry feed.
We as the SLVA, the main professional body that represents veterinarians in Sri Lanka, are dedicated to providing independent technical expertise to decision-makers to bring about a sustainable and ethical solution to the existing crisis while upholding the safety of consumers at heart and the betterment of the country at large.