Tashi Dema 

Karma Feeds had paid Nu 1.7 million (M) to six poultry farm owners in Thimphu, 16 in Punakha and 19 in Trongsa as of December 30 after many birds died of suspected feed contamination.

Compensation was also paid to poultry farm owners in Pemagatshel and Zhemgang dzongkhags yesterday, according to an official. “We are waiting for data from the other affected dzongkhags and the compensation will be paid by next week.”

The compensation was made after poultry farmers from across the country complained of high bird mortality and reduced egg production from poultry feeds the company produced on November 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, and December 1 of 2021.

Records maintained by the Department of Livestock (DoL) showed that 78,672 birds have died and another 467,828 were affected, impacting 529 households.

Officials from Karma Feeds said the total compensation is estimated at Nu 48M, Nu 26M in monetary compensation and Nu 22M in feed replacement.

It was learnt that the compensation proposal was developed after five rounds of consultation and deliberation on the issue between Karma Feeds and livestock officials.

“The compensation proposal was based on the estimated production damage due to bird mortality and cost of feed for affected birds ranging from 10 to 14 days depending upon the type of birds affected,” DoL’s deputy chief livestock production officer, Tashi Dendup.

He said that after receiving reports on mass poultry morbidity and mortality from dzongkhags, the department instructed veterinary officers in respective dzongkhags to investigate the issue.

“Considering the severity, the Department fielded an additional expert team to investigate the causes of such morbidity and mortality in poultry birds,” Tashi Dendup said.

The team members consisted of technical experts from the DoL, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA), National Research and Development Centre for Animal Nutrition (NRDCAN) in Bumthang, Regional Livestock Development Centre (RLDC), representatives from Karma Feeds and the dzongkhag livestock sector.

The team visited the affected farms, collected samples, gathered information, carried out post mortem on dead birds, and monitored the recovering population of birds.

Tashi Dendup explained NRDCAN, after obtaining the samples from the affected feedlots, conducted tests for nutritional contents on the suspect feed samples, and the National Centre for Animal Health (NCAH) carried out aflatoxin tests and screened against major poultry diseases.  “Newcastle disease, Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD), Marek’s disease, and Avian influenza have been ruled out as per the investigation.”

Officials said BAFRA also carried out their own investigation in the field and collected samples for further analysis. “Investigation at the Karma Feed factory was also conducted by BAFRA, and veterinary officers in the field conducted post mortem on the carcasses of dead and affected birds,” Tashi Dendup said.

He said that since there are no test facilities for metals and heavy metal poisoning in the country, samples from the suspected feedlots were sent for testing for other chemicals including lead, mercury, arsenic, valanium, selenium, pesticides, rodenticides, insecticides, and fungicides.

He said that samples will also be tested for bacterial toxins, virals, and bacterial pathogens. “Wherever appropriate, retest will also be done to reconfirm the mycotoxins and ionophores.”

Meanwhile, Karma Feeds officials said the recent incident is the first incident in their 36 years of producing animal feed. “We have always produced feed at the highest standards of quality and safety in addition to meeting all regulatory standards in the country. While we are still awaiting test results, we are also conducting our own investigations as to what could have led to this unfortunate incident and are not ruling out any possibilities,” an official said.

He said Karma Feeds is taking proactive measures and providing compensation to the farmers in line with our core principles and long-standing commitment to our customers and community. “Many of these farmers are our long-standing customers, and we are also part of the same community and are acutely aware of the difficulties faced by the affected farmers.”

The official said that they are all part of the same ecosystem that brings locally produced food to homes all around the country. “It is in our common interest, all the producers and suppliers in the value chain and ultimately the consumers, to get our farmers back up and running at the earliest. Any delay only results in more losses for the farmers and ultimately the final consumers of eggs around the country.”

He said that while they are still waiting for confirmation from tests, Karma Feeds, through the monetary compensation, wants to immediately provide a means for the farmers to move forward without further delay. “We also want to roll out the compensation package in a fair and objective manner but are disheartened to see emerging opportunistic elements and actors who are trying to take advantage of the situation. We hope such opportunists will not disrupt the compensation rollout and lead to delays for the truly affected farmers.”

Poultry farmer AK Rai in Punakha said more than 500 birds died at his farm and many are sick today. Even pigs died at his farm.

He received Nu 63,000 as compensation. “I have loans to clear but I did not take issue with Karma Feeds as I feel the feed contamination was not intentional.”

He said he lost birds to bird disease a few years ago.