Chickens housed in filth

2008-11-04 00:00

Thousands of contaminated chickens on a south coast poultry farm could soon find their way on to dinner plates after they were sold to unsuspecting hawkers and poultry farms.

The Agriculture Department and Ethekwini’s health unit have swooped on the farm, which houses over 10 000 chickens, and are conducting tests on the chickens.

The chickens are initially used for egg production, but when they are 10 months old, they are sold to other poultry farms, hawkers and major supermarkets. Sources close to The Witness said that the chickens were sold to a poultry farm in Howick and to several others in the Eastern Cape.

The “appalling” conditions were discovered during a routine inspection of the poultry farm — whose name is known to The Witness — near Umkomaas on the south coast by SPCA officials who found hundreds of dead chickens in the chicken coops along with healthy chickens. The dead chickens were in late stages of decomposing.

An SPCA official who did not want to be named said that when they arrived for the inspection, they found chicken faeces piled a metre high under the cages.

He said that chicken feed that fell through the cages’ wire mesh was scraped off the faeces and fed back to the chickens. The team also found rotting carcasses infested with maggots in almost every cage, while swarms of flies filled the area.

“The smell was unbearable. There were millions of flies that were almost like a blanket over the cages. It is a most inhumane way to treat these birds,” he said.

Some of the dead chickens were collected and sent for analysis and it is alleged that traces of salmonella and Newcastle disease were found.

Newcastle disease is extremely contagious and can cause nervous disorders, lesions and death.

Some of the birds also suffered from Coryza disease, which causes their heads and eyes to swell.

“These poor animals can’t even see their food or water. They die in agony. It’s cruelty to animals in the highest degree and needs to be stopped,” he said.

He said his biggest concern is that the contaminated birds are being consumed by humans.

“The owner is responsible for this. He is getting away with murder. Who knows where these chickens are going?” he said.

When contacted by The Witness, the owner of the farm denied the SPCA’s allegations and said that he is considering taking legal action against the organisation.

“They know nothing about poultry farming. Chickens die every day and are disposed of properly. These inspectors should stick to worrying about stray dogs and cats,” he said.

Agriculture Department spokes-man Khulekani Ntshangase said that the department was contacted by community members who were angry about the manner in which the chickens were treated.

He said that the department sent their agricultural production unit to assist the farmer with hygiene and overcrowding problems.

He could not confirm the disease strains, saying that tests are still being conducted.

“It would be difficult to say what diseases were found on the chickens. However, we are running a battery of tests. The results are expected soon,” he said.

Ntshangase also said that tests were being conducted on people in the local community for diseases associated with the poultry.

“The primary market for the poultry is the surrounding area. We are currently monitoring and conducting tests on residents,” he added.

Deputy head for Ethekwini’s health unit Themba Mdluli said his department is conducting an investigation into the matter.

He said a meeting with the Agriculture Department will take place today.

“We are concerned about this. We are meeting with all departments involved and will release a full statement after,” he said.

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