AVA concerned about bird flu risk, not noise of chickens

We thank all writers who have shared their views on the management of free-roaming chickens, and would like to clarify the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority's position on the matter.

One of AVA's responsibilities is to ensure that Singapore is kept free from animal diseases that pose a threat to public health.

In this regard, AVA needs to carry out surveillance work to detect and control diseases early.

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.

That is why the World Animal Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2004 specifically mentioned the need to manage free-range chickens, so as to control bird flu at source.

Keeping poultry in a bio-secured environment is one of the measures recommended.

The risk of free-roaming chickens in Singapore being exposed to bird flu is real and significant, as we are one of the stopover nodes for migratory wild birds. Hence, these chickens can catch the disease through direct contact with wild birds or through their droppings.

In a recent bird flu outbreak in Denmark, investigations found that the outbreak started because of contact between wild birds and free-roaming chickens.

There have also been cases of bird flu outbreaks around the world where human infection was linked to direct or indirect exposure to infected poultry.

The various media reports may have given the impression that AVA is taking action solely because of complaints of noise. But that is not the case.

AVA's concern is 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 chickens in certain areas, which in turn raise the exposure risk to bird flu in these localities.

We recognise the views expressed by different stakeholders and will continue to explore various options to manage the free-roaming chicken population in Singapore.

We are also continuing our research studies on the risks of a bird flu outbreak in Singapore, to better understand how the disease may start and spread through the free-roaming chicken population here, and what measures are needed to reduce public health risks.

We seek the understanding of all Singaporeans as we go about this work to keep our nation and our people safe.

Yap Him Hoo (Dr)

Director-General

Agri-food and Veterinary Authority

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2017, with the headline 'AVA concerned about bird flu risk, not noise of chickens'. Print Edition | Subscribe