Following the weeks of backlash from members of the public about the culling of chickens in the Thomson View area, the head honcho of Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) himself has come out to better explain the reasons for the arbitrary decision for killing the birds. Director General of AVA, Yap Kim Hoo, now claims that the birds were killed not because of the noise they generated, but to mitigate the risks of bird flu spreading.
Writing a letter to Today, Dr Yap said that it is AVA’s responsibility to keep Singapore safe from animal and plant associated diseases which may pose a threat to public health. He said that the various media reports which may have given the impression that the AVA is taking action solely because of complaints about noise is wrong and that the AVA’s concern was “not about noise but about public health and safety.”
“The noise issues only serve to bring attention to the relatively high numbers of free-roaming chicken in certain areas, which in turn raise the exposure risk to bird flu in these localities.”
Dr Yap further explained that the risk of free-roaming chickens being exposed to bird flu is significant here, because Singapore is one of the stopover nodes for migratory wild birds:
“…chickens on our island can catch the disease through direct contact with wild birds or even through their droppings … There is clear scientific evidence that chickens are very susceptible to the bird-flu virus, and can in turn transmit the disease to humans. This was indeed what happened when the region was struck with bird flu in 2004.”
The Today newspaper was the first to break the news in the first few days of the Chinese New Year that the chickens around the Thomson View and Blocks 452 to 454 Sin Ming Avenue were culled after authorities received 20 complaints from residents about noise. An AVA spokesperson told TODAY at that time that the chickens were “humanely euthanised, as relocation options are not available in land-scarce Singapore”.
Commenting on Dr Yap’s letter to explain the culling, academic Donald Low asked how high was the risk of bird flu.
“Of course there’s some risk of bird flu. But how high are those risks? It cannot be the case that even the remotest possibility of a bird flu outbreak justifies mass culling. After all, chickens are the only not species that can be infected with bird flu.
It also seems to me that AVA embarked on the culling before it conducted a risk assessment. If you’ve already decided to cull, why bother doing a risk assessment?
Finally, notice how AVA has stopped telling us that the Sin Ming chickens weren’t the endangered red jungle fowl, which was one of the original reasons why the culling was so unacceptable to the public.”
Socio-political commentator Leong Sze Hian asked why it took so long for AVA to tell the public the reason for the culling.
“Why did it (AVA) take so long to tell us the reason? So, why was the “wrong” reason given in the first place? So, why did it take so many years to take what I understand may be the first ever chicken culling exercise, since the WHO issued it’s advisory in 2004?”