The owner of a poultry farm in Battambang is denying allegations that he tried to keep an outbreak of bird flu at his farm secret, and that he sold hundreds of sick or dead birds for consumption in the provincial capital before the H5N1 outbreak was detected.
Sar Ratha, owner of the poultry farm in Banan district’s Ta Kream commune, said the birds were too young to sell. “They were just chicks, about one month old,” he told the Post yesterday. “We did not sell them to people to eat.”
The allegations were made by a Ta Kream commune councillor who requested anonymity. He alleged that Sar Ratha tried to keep the outbreak secret and said that hundreds of dead and sick chickens were secretly transported at night to Battambang town before animal health officials visited the farm.
“Only 4,158 birds were incinerated on Friday, and 1,500 birds died before then. They were sold in Battambang town at night,” he said, adding he had received this information from employees of the poultry farm.
Banan district police chief Buth Sambo said that 1,500 chickens had died or became sick late last month and that about 4,150 other birds at the farm were incinerated on Friday after officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries found the H5N1 virus in dead and sick birds at the farm.
Cheam Chansophoan, director of the provincial agricultural department, said that the virus had not been detected in any people. “The farm was carefully cleaned, and we are not so worried about infection [of people] because it is located far away from villagers’ homes,” he said, adding that the ministry notified residents in the area to be alert for signs of bird flu.
Neang Kan, a veterinarian at Ta Kream commune, said that the outbreak began on October 25 but was not reported until five days later.
“We are working very hard to prevent infection of people, because when the sick birds are sold, people may get infected. This is a very dangerous situation,” he said.
Sar Ratha also said that he lost US$15,000 due to the H5N1 outbreak, the first one detected in Battambang, which resulted in the incineration of more than 4,000 chickens at his farm in Banan district on Friday.
Ly Sovann, deputy director of the health ministry’s communicable disease control department, said no people in the outbreak area had tested positive for the virus.
Teams of health officials and veterinarians were working in tandem to prevent the outbreak spreading, he said.