June 19, 2008


Poultry traders in Hong Kong told: wash daily or quit


Poultry traders in the territory said they are considering getting a one-off compensation from the government and quitting the business for good after a proposal was announced that wet markets would have to be cleaned daily to prevent bird flu.


The Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene held a special meeting at the Legislative Council on 16 June to discuss the discovery of H5N1 bird flu virus at wet markets last week.


At the meeting, chairman of the Hong Kong Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association Steven Wong Wai-chuen said most poultry traders would quit if the government insists on implementing daily cleansing at markets as they simply cannot bear the loss that the policy will incur.


The retailers are asking for a compensation eight times the compensation currently given to vendors who voluntarily surrender their licences.


China Daily reports that the traders also hinted at a protest during the Olympics if the government did not meet their demand for compensation soon enough.


Chickens in four markets in Hong Kong were discovered with the bird flu virus last week, prompting authorities to order culling of all live poultry in the territory's markets. In Hong Kong, consumers buy live chickens from the market which are slaughtered by the stall owners at the wet markets to keep the meat fresh. Authorities have culled about 3,500 chickens in the retail markets while chickens still at the farms have been left intact.


The government also issued a 21-day ban on poultry imports from China. Hong Kong registered 21 cases of bird flu in 2007 and six people died of human bird flu in 1997.


Poultry traders are already incensed by the government's proposal, which were backed by the country's top scientists, to prevent vendors from stocking live poultry at their stalls overnight. If live poultry were to be delivered to the stalls during the day and must be slaughtered by night, prices will dip precipitously in the evenings, poultry traders said.


Hong Kong announced plans for a central slaughtering plant to be completed by 2011 last year, which means all slaughtering at markets would have to be stopped.


Some poultry vendors believe bird flu in the territory is spread by birds smuggled into Hong Kong. Poultry organisations have proposed that birds in the territory to carry a laser tag so as to distinguish it from smuggled birds.


At the same meeting, representatives of the poultry industry said they have been struggling financially since the sale of live chickens was suspended last Wednesday.


They asked the government to think of a long-term policy for the survival of the trade.


Meanwhile, legislators asked the government to consider giving a one-off compensation to the trade.


Secretary for Food and Health York Chow said that daily cleansing, and eventually central slaughtering, are the most effective ways of controlling bird flu in Hong Kong.


Chow said that if the vendors insist on rejecting the daily cleansing policy, the government will consider giving them compensation to end their businesses.


Meantime, he said chickens in local farms may have to be culled since all wet markets have been declared infected areas.


The government is expected to reach a decision this week, he said.