The vaccination of free-roaming chickens may not be an effective solution to manage the risk of bird flu, given that there are many strains of the virus and the fact that it has been known to mutate, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon on Tuesday (3 April).
Koh, who is also a Member of Parliament (MP) for Ang Mo Kio GRC, was responding to a parliamentary question from Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng about the culling of free-ranging chickens at Sungei Api Api in January.
Ng, a noted animal rights activist, asked how many residents had complained about the fowl and how many of the chickens were culled. He also queried if the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) would consider vaccinating free-ranging chickens instead of destroying them.
Speaking in Parliament, Koh said, “While bird flu vaccinations can provide some partial protection against certain strains, the vaccinated chickens can still be infected by other strains that are not covered by the vaccination, particularly since the free-roaming chickens are free to interact and make contact with other wildlife.”
“So I think we have to understand that this is not just about the chickens. It is also about public safety and human health. At the end of the day, AVA also has a responsibility towards the health and safety of Singaporeans.”
Koh added that Singapore is located in a region where the risk of bird flu is real. Last month, an outbreak of bird flu in Kelantan saw Malaysian authorities culling almost 57,000 chickens.
According to media reports, the AVA also culled 24 chickens in Sin Ming in January after the agency received 20 complaints about noise and in response to concerns over avian flu. The move sparked a public outcry that resulted in Koh telling Parliament that the culling was only done as a last resort.
Koh told the House on Tuesday that the AVA aims to enhance its management of animal populations by involving stakeholders such as academics, wildlife experts, the community and animal welfare groups in exploring various approaches and solutions.
*This article has been corrected to reflect that the culling of chickens at Sungei Api Api took place in January and not in March.