FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE (AFP) - A scramble by thousands of people for scraps of imported rotten chicken sparked a huge standoff between police and residents in Sierra Leone's capital over the weekend, the health ministry said.
The ministry said health inspectors and police were on the hunt for what remained of a huge consignment of putrid poultry imported from Brazil on July 12 and buried at a rubbish dump after health officials deemed it unfit for consumption.
But thousands of residents in the capital Freetown went to the dump after learning about the vast haul of chicken which they then tried to dig out with shovels, hoes and pickaxes.
Police moved in, using tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to prevent people from removing the contaminated meat after crowds barged past health inspectors.
Police made 40 arrests, adding that three-quarters of the chicken had been crushed with mud at the site that is littered with human and animal faeces as well as other domestic and industrial waste, the ministry said.
"We are going to wash, cook and eat the chicken during our family supper," said Aminata Kamara, a mother of three who managed to salvage two bags of the rotten chicken.
Victor Lansana Koroma, director of a local health NGO, demanded the arrest and prosecution of the importer.
"We are worried that some of the rotten chicken if consumed might cause an outbreak (worse) than Ebola," said Koroma.
The country is only just recovering from a recent Ebola outbreak that left over 4,000 people dead.
Some 70 per cent of people in Sierra Leone live in poverty, according to CIA World Factbook data.