Travellers divided over ban on poultry from countries with avian flu risk

ALFRED CHUA MINGFENG Today Online 20 Feb 17;

Singapore — With the risk of bird flu in the news after the culling of free-roaming chickens in Sin Ming, a lesser-known poultry regulation has also ruffled some feathers.

Currently, poultry in any form — cooked or raw — from countries where there is still a risk of avian influenza, such as Malaysia, cannot be brought into Singapore.

Those who make trips across the Causeway whom TODAY spoke to were mostly unaware of the regulation. Of 20 travellers, 14 said they did not know cooked poultry was not allowed to be brought back to Singapore.

They also had mixed reactions to the regulation. Some thought it unnecessary, as cooking the food thoroughly would eliminate the virus.

Ms Kamesh Raja, 26, said, “While I can see the reasoning behind not allowing uncooked (poultry) into Singapore because of health safety risks, this might be going too far for cooked food meant for personal consumption”.

Freelance photographer Yeo Kai Wen, who was unaware of the regulation, said it was “going to be a waste of food ... if (the cooked poultry) was confiscated”.

Some travellers, such as Ms Farhanah Rahman, 21, said they exercise caution when buying food from Malaysia. She said her family would only buy from places that practise good hygiene.

While Ms Farhanah and her family have had food confiscated at Customs and thrown away, other travellers said that enforcement was not strict or evenly enforced.

Mr James Toh, 32, said he had once been let off with a “stern warning, after telling the Customs officer that I didn’t know” about the regulation. That same reason led to his friend’s meal being confiscated.

Regardless, there were travellers who felt the rule was needed to ensure overall food safety. A business manager who wanted to be known only as Riya said, “The authorities must have their reasons for doing so, and as travellers, we just obey”.

Social marketer Adli Jumat said the regulation would help keep “disease microbes” out of Singapore — “Even though the food is cooked, there is a possibility certain micro-organisms (might) still survive.”

Homemaker Suhailah Aziz, 40, told TODAY, “It’s better to be safe than sorry, just in case.”

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam said the virus causing avian influenza would have “technically been killed during the cooking process”.

However, he noted, “Cooked chicken, or for that matter, any kind of cooked food, can be contaminated with any type of bacteria, including salmonella and cholera, as well as avian influenza-causing viruses.”

This could result from the improper handling of cooked food, leading to cross-contamination.

In a Voices letter last week, TODAY reader Jeffrey Lai questioned the necessity of the ban on cooked poultry. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) told him earlier that meat and meat products were classified as high-risk, and that “imports can only be allowed from AVA-approved sources”.

“AVA also needs to evaluate the source of raw meat and the heat treatment that the items have been subjected to — whether the heat treatment is sufficient to deactivate the avian influenza according to World Organisation for Animal Health’s guidelines before allowing any import,” it said.

Noting that Malaysia and Hong Kong, which Mr Lai had also enquired about, were “not free from avian influenza”, the AVA added that “the source of raw poultry meat and heat treatment (including the core temperature and duration) are also unknown”. ALFRED CHUA

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