Experts don’t recommend culling of wild birds


Sankar Ananthanarayanan

Published: 4:00 AM, February 16, 2017

The letter “Free-roaming chickens culled for public health reasons, not noise” (Feb 14) stated that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority took action owing to public health concerns, specifically over the spread of avian influenza to humans.

It cited a 2004 report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health to justify its action.

I read the report, and contrary to the AVA’s assertion, the report does not claim that wild or “free-roaming” fowl should be culled as part of biosecurity measures and instead recommends culling for poultry kept under farmed conditions.

A more recent update on the FAO website states that culling of wild bird populations is not recommended, as it may disperse infected birds and does little to reduce the risk of transmission to commercial poultry.

Humans are more likely to come into direct contact with chickens and their faeces under farmed conditions than they are with free-roaming birds.

By not making this important distinction, the AVA runs the risk of misinforming the public about the risks of bird flu.

The fowl in Sin Ming remain relatively wild and are unlikely to come into direct contact with humans despite their proximity.

The FAO report cited by the AVA also recommends vaccination as a control measure. Was this considered?

Bird shops are more likely to be fertile grounds for the transmission of bird flu, owing to the risk of direct human contact with birds and their faeces.

Yet, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society recently found that about half of the licensed shops it surveyed had not housed birds in good conditions (“14 out of 27 pet bird shops flouted licensing conditions: AVA”; Nov 4, online).

This increases the risk of viruses being transmitted to humans.

In the light of the AVA’s lax approach towards bird shops and the relatively low risk posed by free-roaming, wild fowl, why then were the Sin Ming chickens targeted for culling?

I hope that future decisions will be based on scientific evidence, instead of knee-jerk reactions.