Since the chickens were slaughtered – yes, let’s not mince words since we have eradicated them because of a few complaints – the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has made a hash of trying to explain why it wielded the axe on the poor chicks.

But first, a brief rewind: about two weeks ago, news emerged that a brood of free-ranging chickens, numbering about 20, was culled by the AVA after the agency received some complaints about the noise the birds were making around the neighbourhood. (Yes, chicken noise! Imagine that!)

Needless to say, the officially sanctioned slaughter was badly received by the public, who wondered how loud chickens could be. (Really!)

Soon, the public was all over the AVA, slamming it for being inhumane and highhanded.

And here is where it gets interesting, and now pits the credibility of the news media against that of the AVA, on the issue of why the AVA chose to kill the chickens.

See, on 2 February, the Straits Times had a report with the headline:

“Free-ranging chickens may be culled”

And it had this sub-header:

“AVA will do so over reports about noise, while NParks says it may do so to protect red junglefowl.”

That’s quite clear.

AVA will cull free-ranging chickens if there are “reports about noise”.

Nothing about public health.

The newspaper went on to report what Ms Jessica Kwok, AVA group director of the animal management group, said, that “the authority has received requests to manage the free- ranging chicken population due to noise pollution.”

Note those last 4 words – “due to noise pollution”.

Ms Kwok continues:

“To address these, AVA works with NParks to conduct surveillance and control operations to safeguard public health and mitigate nuisance issues.”

Here, Ms Kwok does indeed mention “public health”. However, she strangely does not elaborate on this. She would have if the chickens were a threat to the community. So, why didn’t she?

Instead, she refers to “nuisance”, and this – to any normal-thinking person, would include “noise”.

Ms Kwok’s reason for the AVA culling the brood was noise pollution.

Fast-forward to 2 weeks later.

On 15 February, the Straits Times published a letter from the Director-General of the AVA himself, Yap Him Hoo.

In it, Dr Yap explained the culling thusly:

“The various media reports may have given the impression that AVA is taking action solely because of complaints of noise. But that is not the case.

AVA’s concern is not about noise but about public health and safety. The noise issues only serve to bring attention to the relatively high numbers of free-roaming chickens in certain areas, which in turn raise the exposure risk to bird flu in these localities.”

It is an interesting letter for two reasons:

  1. Dr Yap seems to have contradicted Ms Kwok who is, it is necessary to reiterate, the group director of the animal management group in the AVA.
  2. Dr Yap seems to have also laid the blame on “various media reports” which, he says, have misled the public into thinking the AVA’s reason for killing the chickens was noise pollution.

On the first point, it is – again – a strange one.

If it is about public health, then surely the AVA would have taken action on the many number and instances of birds – pigeons, crows, mynahs – scavenging at food centres, hawker centres and coffeeshops across the island.

This was a point raised by Ronnie Lim Ah Bee in a letter to the Straits Times on 16 February.

He wrote:

“Free-ranging chickens are few in number, compared to the many pigeons, mynahs and crows congregating at public eating places, snatching food and leaving their droppings all over the place.

“Doesn’t this group of birds pose a greater risk of being carriers of bird flu, should there be an outbreak in Singapore?”

So, that’s that.

We move on to the second reason Dr Yap gave for the wrong impression about the culling.

It would be good if the reporters who spoke to Ms Kwok could clarify if what Dr Yap said is true.

If it is, the editors need to step up, apologise, and do better in future. After all, if you have missed an issue of public health – which is always a serious issue – and instead sensationalised it, then it is thoroughly regrettable.

However, if you have not, it is important to call out the AVA Director-General for himself putting out misleading information – that it is the media which had misrepresented the matter.

Whatever it is, the reporters of the mainstream media (ie, the Straits Times TODAY and CNA, in particular) should explain why they allegedly misled the public, or defend their reports and call out Dr Yap for false claims.

Both the media’s and Dr Yap’s credibility hang in the balance on this issue.

Now, having said that, the public should also be more circumspect in its criticism of the AVA. After all, it is an agency which is at the forefront of protecting our health, and it has been doing an excellent job all these years. It is not like the AVA is running around with horns on their heads, wielding pitchforks looking for poor little chickens to slaughter.

I am sure the AVA is made up of people who care deeply about their job to keep us all safe from harm.

So, let’s keep that in mind too.

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