April 16, 2004



Hong Kong To Resume Live Poultry Imports From China


Hong Kong officials said Thursday that they will resume imports of live chickens from mainland China on a trial basis, gradually lifting a ban put in place to keep bird flu out of the territory.


The health secretary, Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, said that beginning next Tuesday officials will allow 6,000 live chickens into the territory each day. The number will gradually go up, with officials hoping to get back to normal imports of more than 90,000 chickens a day by May 12.


Hong Kong's poultry industry has condemned the import ban first implemented in late January, calling it an overreaction that has cost the sector millions of dollars.


The ban has also angered many Hong Kongers for whom fresh chicken is a crucial part of their culinary tradition. Many locals prefer fresh chicken killed on the spot in Hong Kong's open-air markets, and they shun frozen poultry as an inferior food.


Hong Kong has avoided the recent Asian bird flu crisis, which killed 24 people in Vietnam and Thailand and forced the slaughter of millions of birds before it tapered off.


But avian influenza has surfaced here previously and officials defended the live chicken ban as a necessary precaution to protect public health. In Hong Kong's worst outbreak, bird flu crossed over to humans in 1997, killing six.