A farm in Kompong Thom province that supplies Thai agro-industry giant Charoen Pokphand (CP) dumped the carcasses of 11,500 diseased chickens into an irrigation canal on Sunday, poisoning the waterway and endangering local livestock, according to officials.
Company officials on Monday denied responsibility for the incident, while local officials disagreed about whom to blame.
The chicken farm in Stung Sen City is owned by local businessman Siet Sim and managed by CP. It was home to 12,000 chickens before all but 500 were discarded into the canal, which is used to irrigate rice farms during the rainy season and serves as a source of drinking water for livestock year round.
Tann Mengchhang, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s animal health office in Stung Sen City, said locals reported that Mr. Sim himself threw the chickens into the canal.
“A chicken farmer said that there were a total of 12,000 chickens at the chicken farm, and that 11,500 chickens died and 500 chickens remained,” Mr. Mengchhang said. “I think that by taking the dead chickens to throw into the canal, they are spreading the disease to other birds, animals and the people in that area.”
“This morning, I and other officials went down to the chicken farm and we asked a farmer to kill the remaining chickens and burn them all,” he said, adding that they would return to the farm today and attempt to contain the disease with chemical disinfectants.
“We don’t know what disease caused the chickens to die,” he said. “CP did not cooperate or give information to us, but they told the farmers that [the farmers] had harmed the chickens themselves.”
Mr. Mengchhang explained that representatives of CP in Kompong Thom had known about the dying birds, having taken a chicken to authorities in Phnom Penh to be analyzed a week ago, and the company’s failure to alert local officials was reckless.
“The chicken farm has no license, so it is wrong,” he added.
Mr. Sim, the farm’s owner, could not be reached.
Bun Sovannara, CP’s chicken health manager at the Stung Sen City farm, denied that the company was responsible for the deaths or the method of their disposal.
He also disputed officials’ claim that 11,500 chickens were thrown into the canal, suggesting that the figure would more accurately apply to the “total for the whole province.”
“The chickens that the animal department claimed died are not from CP company. All of them are from villagers’ farms,” Mr. Sovannara said, adding that roughly 700 CP chickens were disposed of “weeks ago” after dying from diarrhea and respiratory problems.
“At CP, we have about 5,000 chickens [at the farm]. At that farm, our chickens began dying in the middle of December,” he said. “Until now, we have culled and burned about 700 chickens.”
Hok Siphanna, chief of the Stung Sen City agriculture office, said that because CP managed the chicken farm, it was responsible for the public health fiasco.
However, Mok Youthana, deputy director of the provincial agriculture department, said he believed CP was innocent.
“It was the farmer [Mr. Sim] who took the dead chickens and threw them into the canal. The CP company is not the one who threw dead chickens into the canal, so the CP company did nothing wrong,” he said, noting that the farmer could not be fined under existing laws.
“But we can educate him and advise him not to do the same thing next time,” he said.
Mr. Youthana added the chickens might not have been diseased at all.
“I cannot conclude that disease is what killed the chickens. In some cases, chickens can also die from changes in the climate.”
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)