Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Big poultry round-up at Ubin

As ban looms on Friday, nine farms emptied to keep bird flu virus away
By Chang Ai-Lien
June 15, 2005

OFFICIALS rounded up most of the remaining poultry on Pulau Ubin yesterday, buying what was left of the 300 chickens, ducks and geese for slaughter before the poultry ban on the island takes effect on Friday.

The move is part of Singapore's efforts to keep the deadly bird flu at bay, as backyard farming in the region has been blamed for recent outbreaks.

It is also the end of an era for poultry farmers like Mr Vincent Chew, whose family has reared chickens - several thousand during its heyday - for over 50 years.

'This is the responsible thing to do,' said the 38-year-old, who sold his last 10 chickens to friends over the weekend. They had rushed over for their final chance to savour tasty kam pung chicken after hearing about the impending ban.

Mr Chew's family, which operates one of nine licensed farms on Pulau Ubin, has accepted the Government's offer to resettle on the main island.

Five families have taken up the offer so far.

Full-time farmers have been offered compensation of $26,000 to give up their farming licences, as well as further payment for their homes, farm structures and improvements.

Most farmers and residents who spoke to The Straits Times yesterday shared Mr Chew's views, although some were sad to see the end of the line for their feathered friends.

'It can't be helped,' said Mr Hasan Ali, 45, looking on as the sole goose in his brother's house was taken away. The honking bird had acted as a security guard and snake-killer, he said.

The ban extends a restriction imposed last year, when the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) prohibited farms and homes on the kampung island from keeping more than 10 birds each. The animals also had to be caged. But this did not work because some people continued to let their fowl roam free.

Yesterday, most of the nine farms and 17 households rearing poultry sold their remaining birds to the AVA and the Poultry Merchants' Association, at market prices.

About 90 birds were caught in nets and caged, before being taken back to the main island for slaughter.

From Friday, no one will be allowed to keep, breed, sell or buy live poultry on Pulau Ubin.

The ban has not been extended to homes on the main island, where families can still keep up to 10 pet chickens, provided they are caged.

Singapore is on high alert for the deadly virus, which is endemic in the region and has devastated poultry stocks and killed more than 50 people.

The worry is that the H5N1 strain could spawn the next global flu outbreak, which could kill millions.

AVA officers will be conducting spot checks on Pulau Ubin and anyone caught flouting the rules could be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for a year.

AVA's assistant director for agritech infrastructure Chin Yew Neng said: 'We thank the residents for playing their part in keeping Singapore free of bird flu.'

The remaining few birds on Pulau Ubin will have to be removed by tomorrow.

The association's secretary, Mr Chew Kian Huat, said that whatever birds he
collected would be cooked and distributed among members of the trade.

'There are too few to make it worth our while to sell them to the public, but we wanted to do our duty to help keep bird flu away,' he said in Mandarin.

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