Newcastle Disease at Root of Chicken Carcass Alert

THAILAND - An outbreak of Newcastle disease is understood to be the main cause of the deaths of tens of thousands of chickens, which were then slaughtered and illegally sold on to consumers, restaurants and shops in a food scandal revealed in two weeks ago.
calendar icon 23 June 2011
clock icon 6 minute read

Livestock Development Department officials in Saraburi province said the outbreak of the disease was nationwide, reports Bangkok Post. Livestock authorities in several areas have been trying unsuccessfully to suppress the disease since late last year because of fears it may seriously harm the lucrative chicken export market.

Panya Chotitawan, chairman of Saha Farm Co., said the Nakhon Ratchasima scandal has caused domestic poultry meat consumption to drop by about 10 per cent. Officials are now concentrating on chicken farms in neighbouring Saraburi as the sources of the illegally sold carcasses.

Large chicken farms in Saraburi have been vaccinating chickens against Newcastle disease, while livestock authorities were concentrating their efforts on domestic fowls. "Had it not been for this disease, the incident in Nakhon Ratchasima would not have happened," said one Livestock Development source.

On 13 June, abattoirs in the province were raided and about eight tonnes of decomposed chicken was seized. Police have laid charges against four of the 11 operators of the abattoirs.

"When you have 1,000 chickens die on average a day, that's a lot. So what farm owners may have possibly resorted to is getting rid of them quickly, but as we have learned several do not have standard disposal facilities," the source said.

Newcastle disease is a contagious viral disease fatal in some bird-life but non-threatening to humans. In birds, it usually can be controlled through vaccination programmes.

In April, an increase in the price of eggs was blamed on Newcastle disease affecting laying hens and reducing production, according to a Tan Network news report. One egg farmer said many farmers were forced to sell their sick laying hens and added that the outbreak had been under way for at least 10 months.

Mr Panya said last week that he had yet to receive confirmation about an outbreak of Newcastle disease in Thailand.

He said chicken deaths could be due to any number of reasons – from other poultry diseases to changes in weather.

He added that last year's low temperatures were a likelier culprit as most of the dead fowl came from small-scale farms that did not have a temperature-control system.

An investigation by the Bangkok Post Sunday edition has revealed that some of the carcasses from the Nakhon Ratchasima raid came from a certified chicken farm in the Kaeng Khoi district of Saraburi.

Livestock authorities inspected the farm and were told by the owner it had a facility to dispose of chicken carcasses. However, the inspectors found no disposal facility, which is required under the Agricultural Standards Act 2008 for certified chicken farms.

Under the Disease Outbreaks Act, dead chickens commercially produced must be either buried or incinerated.

However, the Animal Slaughter Control and Meat Sale Act allows farm owners to sell dead livestock if they are examined and approved by a veterinarian for sale.

The investigators also found that the farm owners had not submitted any notice for examination of their dead chickens.

Another certified farm in the district is also suspected of being the source of the chicken carcasses but has yet to be investigated by livestock officials.

Three other farms, owned by a large agribusiness, were also accused by local residents of supplying the carcasses to the slaughterhouses. Livestock officials met with representatives of the farms and issued a warning about the proper disposal of chicken carcasses.

"They wanted to look forward, rather than looking back to find fault," said the Livestock Development source.

There are 7,000 certified chicken farms in the Kingdom that must meet certain food safety requirements. Many more are not certified and livestock authorities are pressuring them to do so.

But there are no penalties under the Agricultural Standards, and, at worst, farm owners face revocation of their certification.

Getting a chicken from the farm to the dinner table and fit for human consumption is a complicated process covered by several laws and different departments, reports Bangkok Post.

Transportation is under the Animal Diseases Act, and once the chickens reach the slaughterhouse, a different law is used to try and ensure hygienic slaughtering and sale.

Breaches can result in penalties of up to one year's jail, with a fine of no more than 20,000 baht (THB) or no more than THB2,500 for each chicken counted.

Once the chickens reach food processing facilities and the market, public health regulations come into place.

Each step in the complicated process creates loopholes which can be exploited or lead to negligence, according to a senior bureaucrat who once supervised the country's livestock development work. The National Food Committee can coordinate work between various agencies but he said: "It hardly works," adding it needs to focus on its mission's objectives of food safety and food security.

The source in the Livestock Department said: "The chicken carcasses incident can be seen as a good opportunity for us to seriously get back to what we have started about food safety and get it done. It has reflected our weak food safety."

Nirandorn Uangtrakoolsuk, who heads the Disease Control and Veterinary Bureau, said the department needed time to further investigate the farms' alleged involvement and a panel needed to be set up.

Any chicken farmer found to be still involved in the scandal would have their certificate revoked, he said.

Bangkok Post reports that Mr Panya echoed Mr Nirandorn's sentiment, saying that the Livestock Development Department must boost safety control measures to better contain chicken diseases and ensure that dead birds are properly destroyed.

Further Reading

- Go to our previous news item on this story by clicking here.

Further Reading

- Find out more information on Newcastle disease by clicking here.
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