Fabricated 'news report' misleads Malaysians on minister's egg-shortage remarks

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Multiple Facebook posts falsely claim that major Malaysian news channel Astro Awani reported that Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Mohamad Sabu blamed the country's egg shortage on chickens "refusing to have sex". However, the posts shared a doctored Astro Awani report and the claim was likely originally intended as satire. The ministry has rejected the claim as "false information".

"Chicken brand minister," read a Malaysian-language post that appeared in a Facebook group with more than 14,000 members.

The post, uploaded on December 7, 2022, shared what looked like a screenshot of a Facebook post from Malaysian news channel Astro Awani.

Translated from Malaysian to English, the purported Facebook post's caption read: "The cause of the egg shortage has been identified as problematic chicken couples."

The screenshot also featured what appeared to be an Astro Awani news article headline and a photo of Malaysian Agriculture and Food Security Minister Mohamad Sabu, popularly known as Mat Sabu.

"Shortage of eggs because chickens refuse to have sex," read the Malaysian-language headline.

Screenshot of the misleading post, taken on December 21, 2022

The claim circulated shortly after Mat Sabu issued a statement on Facebook on December 6, 2022, saying that Malaysia would import eggs as a temporary measure to alleviate the country's egg shortage.

Retailers have reportedly blamed the shortage on poultry farms cutting down on production because of an increase in the price of maize and soya beans -- the two main ingredients for chicken feed.

The claim also circulated in similar Facebook posts here, here, here and here.

Some Facebook users appeared to believe that Mat Sabu genuinely made the comments.

"Stupid saying..." wrote one user, while another said: "Sigh ... that's his answer, mat sabu is such a disappointment."

Screenshot of Facebook users' comments

However, the claim was likely intended as satire.

The earliest version of the post that AFP found was on a Facebook page called Alam Maya Tiga, which shares memes mocking Pakatan Harapan, Malaysia's ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

The post, dated December 6, 2022, has been shared more than 450 times.

Fabricated news report

A keyword search on Facebook found the original post was shared on Astro Awani's Facebook page on December 6, 2022.

The post's Malaysian-language caption reads: "However, there was no announcement about cheaper egg prices, as announced by Prime Minister Anwar yesterday (Monday)."

The post also shared a link to an Astro Awani news report, headlined: "External sources have been identified to supply eggs - Mat Sabu."

On December 8, 2022, Astro Awani said on its Facebook page that it did not report the minister as having made the remarks shared in misleading posts.

"Astro Awani has never issued a report like the one that went viral on social media. This report is believed to have been edited by an irresponsible party," it said.

It included the screengrab shared in misleading posts, with a red stamp that read: "FAKE".

AFP found no trace of the purported article on its website.

The Malaysian Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security debunked the claim in a separate statement on December 8, 2022.

"The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security would like to refer to the posting that went viral on social media titled 'Shortage of eggs since chickens refuse to have sex'. For your information, this is an edited fake account and not an official Astro Awani account. The public is requested not to spread or share any uncertain or false information," it said.

According to the animal rights group RSPCA Australia, hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster. "Without a rooster, your hens' eggs are infertile, so won't develop into chicks," it says.