Dealers and customers at a wholesale market selling dubious chicken in Hanoi. Photo by Nguyen Tuan
The lethal threat of bird flu is apparently not serious enough for some corrupt officials who help slaughterhouses evade checks in Ho Chi Minh City and allow a market to openly sell untested chicken in Hanoi.
Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported about two animal-health officials in District 12, HCMC, offering protection to a proposed slaughterhouse in exchange for VND4 million (US$190) a month for them and VND1 million a month to some ward officials also on the take.
The owner of the planned abattoir, identified only as P., met one of the officials, identified only as Phu, on a colleague's recommendation.
His slaughterhouse plans to handle around 200 kilograms of pork and 70 kilograms of chicken a day, all from unauthorized sources.
Tuoi Tre reported that Phu said during their meeting in a café March 8 that having live chicken would be difficult because of the bird flu threat and the presence of neighbors.
The H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus has killed more than 65,000 birds nationwide after breaking out in at least 23 cities and provinces this year.
But he said: “We won’t seize anything on our own. But we are not to blame if other units seize from you and transfer to us.”
He also said he cannot help if caught by the police or market managers though he promised to reduce the penalty if he is part of an inspection team that catches him.
If P.’s competitors tip him off, he would ignore it, Phu promised further.
His subordinate Hoang, who spent three minutes checking the proposed site of the abattoir, said P. should not have live chicken since that would attract attention. The chicken should be discreetly butchered somewhere else, he said.
He promised to tip P. off in advance about planned inspections, including on the road.
He reminded P. that the penalty for trading dubious livestock could exceed US$1,000.
Le Dinh Ha Thanh, head of the District 12 Animal Health Station, said she was not aware of such acts by her subordinates and said she would order an investigation.
Animal health officials from the city’s Thu Duc District Sunday said they recently busted an animal transportation racket that seemed to involve corrupt officials.
Hoang Van Dinh, a truck driver, was fined nearly VND8 million for carrying 150 live pigs from the northern province of Phu Tho to Tien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta.
Dinh presented a quality certificate from the Phu Tho Animal Health Department and a paper with approval stamps from 12 provinces he drove through.
But Thu Duc officials pointed to several violations such as modification of the truck to add several layers at the back (to hold more pigs) and lack of space for waste and wastewater during the trip that took several days.
Dinh admitted that 14 pigs died en route, and he broke the seal and sold them. But despite the broken seal and reduced number of animals, he got approval stamps from officials in Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, and Ninh Thuan provinces.
Elsewhere, a market on Hanoi’s outskirts has been busy selling untested chicken day and night right under the nose of animal health officials, Thanh Nien News has found.
It has been open for around a year in Binh Minh Commune, Thanh Oai District, and become one of the biggest wholesale markets for chicken in the city's outskirts.
It is busiest between 5 and 7 p.m. every day when trucks bring chickens, including sick and dead ones. Dead chicken are sold at VND20,000-30,000 (around one US dollar) apiece.
Quan, a truck driver, said the supply at the market is endless and regular despite the bird flu pandemic. “Chicken here have no papers.”
Loc, a colleague of his, said the market has been growing since it attracts dealers from Ha Vy wholesale market in Thuong Tin District, who want to avoid the quarantine checks there.
A seller at the market said it receives 25-30 tons of chicken every day from all over the north, including areas hit by bird flu.
But some officials at the Thanh Oai District Animal Health Station, which is situated nearby, insisted that all the chickens sold at the market were healthy and quarantined.
“100 percent of chickens here have quarantine papers,” Pham Trung Bac, an official, said, adding that he goes for regular checks himself.
Asked about the absence of animal health officials at the market during Thanh Nien News’s three-day investigation earlier this month, Hoang Van Tuan, head of the district station, said since there are only seven officials it is not possible to always have someone there.
Do Phu Son, deputy head of the Hanoi Animal Health Department, told Thanh Nien that on March 7 the district administration set up mobile teams with police officers and market managers to check the market regularly, but has never found any violations.
The Ministry of Health reported two human deaths from bird flu – a 52-year-old man in Binh Phuoc Province and a 60-year-old woman in Dong Thap Province, both in the south – in January.
The disease has claimed 64 lives so far in Vietnam, one of the highest fatality rates for any country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has caused 649 human cases since it re-emerged in 2003, with 385 of them dying, the WHO said.