HARARE – Chickens that were part of a consignment deemed unfit for human consumption are being sold to unsuspecting customers in Harare and its hinterland, raising serious health risks.
The chickens, weighing about 12 tonnes, had been planted into the belly of Pomona Dumpsite after they were condemned by various chicken breeders operating in the capital city.
But they were dug up by vagrants and other unscrupulous merchants who appeared to have worked in cahoots with workers at the dumpsite.
City officials raised the red flag yesterday, warning Harare’s two million residents to desist from buying chicken from dubious restaurants and from the streets in case they may consume the condemned birds.
The most direct effect of consuming condemned birds is food poisoning, whose common symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Harare City Council (HCC) spokesperson Michael Chideme confirmed the development.
He said: “There were about 12 tonnes of chickens which were condemned and buried at Pomona Dumpsite at the weekend. Some vagrants, however, went there and dug up the chickens, which are now being sold in the various residential areas. People should be wary of the chickens on sale. They could be the condemned birds and they are dangerous for human consumption as some of them were already rotting.”
Chideme said city fathers have been told that most of the chickens were on sale in Harare’s oldest and populous suburb of Mbare, adding that some of the birds were being sold to people running catering businesses, including restaurants that are mushrooming everywhere, including in alleys.
Health experts have reacted angrily to the development, accusing the city fathers and the corporates concerned of dereliction of duty.
They said the chickens should have been incinerated, a process that involves destruction of any material through burning.
Rutendo Bonde, the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, said there was gross negligence by both council and corporates involved in the dumping of the chickens.
She said there are stipulated by-laws and statutory instruments that govern the disposal of condemned poultry, which were ignored in this case.
“There has been a dereliction of the constitutional right to health by everyone involved. The companies did not notify that they were disposing of their chickens, while council also failed to properly manage the disposal. However, the companies involved should be heavily-fined for their behaviour,” said Bonde.
“The biggest question that should be asked is; why did the companies not incinerate the birds on their premises instead of transporting them across the city to Pomona? How can the epidemic (avian flu) be contained when there is uncontrolled movement of infected birds?
“There should have been thorough communication by all the involved parties because if this is not dealt with the avian flu will remain an issue,” she added.
HCC’s health director, Prosper Chonzi, said while contaminated birds should be incinerated, there seems to have been some miscommunication, which resulted in the chickens being buried instead.
He said consumers should desist from buying any meat products they were not sure of their origins, adding council would prefer the harshest penalties on anyone found selling unsafe meat, whose health risks are not only restricted to people but also pets such as dogs and cats.
“We are still dealing with the avian flu outbreak that occurred and if people are selling these chickens then it could prove to be fatal. Ideally, contaminated birds should be incinerated but there seems to have been some miscommunication, which resulted in the chickens being buried instead,” he said.
“People should be careful of who they buy from and where they buy their meat. The most direct effects of consuming these birds is food poisoning. However, the long-term effects of eating avian flu contaminated birds need to be determined. In the unfortunate event that people get into contact with it, it will spread very fast. For those chickens that have not yet been dug up, they will surely be burnt to avoid a similar incident,” Chonzi said.
The outbreak of avian flu hit the country’s largest producer of chickens, Irvine’s in July. This prompted government and the breeders to destroy thousands of chickens.
Combined Harare Residents Association chief executive officer Mfundo Mlilo said the digging up of diseased birds was a sign of the desperation that has befallen Zimbabweans to the poor economic situation.
He said the economic situation was constrictive and forcing people to do anything to ensure that they make some money.
Consumers, who are desperate for a cheaper source of protein, flock to buy these chickens because they are cheaper than birds being sold in shops and butcheries.
“This is a reflection on the state of the economy, which seriously needs to be fixed as it is the root cause of the situation. Also standards of planning in the city have also been compromised as anyone can access junk or even rotten food from the dumpsite and sell it to others without thinking of the health implications involved,” said Mlilo.
“We need strong monitoring mechanisms by both the city health department and the ministry of Health. These two departments need to conduct every possible compliance check on all meat vending and ensure that it is fit for human consumption. If not, then there will likely be another health disaster on our hands,” he added.