KOBE – The chairman of the company running a chicken farm in Tanba, Kyoto Prefecture, that did not alert authorities of an outbreak of bird flu, and his wife were found hanged Monday morning in an apparent suicide.
A 53-year-old female employee of Asada Nosan Co. found the bodies of the chairman, Hajimu Asada, 67, and his wife, Chisako, 64, near the company’s head office in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, at around 7:40 a.m., police said.
They said Asada and his wife hanged themselves back to back from a tree outside a poultry house. They said they found an apparent suicide note on the dining table in the couple’s home.
“We have caused a great deal of inconvenience, and we are very sorry,” police quoted the note as saying. The note was not addressed to anybody, and just said “Asada” at the end. Police said they were unsure whether the chairman or the wife wrote it.
Hideaki Asada, 41, the couple’s son and president of the company, said he saw his father in the office between 10 and 11 p.m. Sunday. Police said the couple had been dead for several hours when they were found.
The company’s Funai farm in Tanba has come under harsh criticism for failing to report that thousands of its chickens were dying. The outbreak was about a week old when it was discovered by prefectural officials who inspected the farm on Feb. 27 following an anonymous tip.
The farm continued to sell live chickens and eggs even though chickens were dying en masse until authorities became aware of the outbreak.
Kyoto Prefectural Police are considering taking legal action against the firm.
Since the outbreak of bird flu at his farm was made known, chairman Asada held two news conferences, including the one Sunday.
On those occasions, he expressed “deep apologies for causing concern and trouble for people around the country.”
In the last news conference, he declined to say whether he was aware of the connection between the death of chickens at the Funai farm and the possibility of an infection. He said he would have to talk to police about the matter.
Bird flu was detected at another farm in the town Wednesday, but no links to the Funai farm have been confirmed. Dead crows tested positive for bird flu Sunday on the premises of the Funai farm and in nearby Sonobe.
The two farms had a combined 270,000 chickens before being hit by bird flu, which re-emerged in Japan in January for the first time in 79 years.
The virus detected at the Funai farm is the highly contagious H5N1 strain. The farm had about 250,000 chickens before the outbreak.
Private credit research agencies said Hajimu Asada launched his poultry business in 1957 with 1,500 chickens, and established the current company in 1973.
Asada Nosan runs the Funai farm in Tanba, three farms in Hyogo Prefecture and two in Okayama Prefecture.
It breeds 1.75 million chickens and ships eggs to major supermarket chains mainly in the Kansai region. It was ranked the 24th-largest poultry business company in Japan as of November.
Last week, the Japan Poultry Association, based in Tokyo, sent a letter to Asada dismissing him as vice chairman and board member of the association, saying the outbreak has caused “trouble” to consumers and other producers.
“It is very tragic,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said at the House of Councilors Audit Committee. “I imagine he had to go through lot of trouble.”
Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada said: “As we have made every effort to contain bird flu problems, it is very regrettable. I would like to extend my condolences.”