New plan to limit fresh chicken sales
To cut disease risk, the birds would only be available at three or four markets
Freshly killed chickens would be sold at only three or four markets under a proposal by the Hong Kong government to minimise the risk of another outbreak of bird flu.
The markets for freshly killed chickens would be located next to regional slaughterhouses - one each on Hong Kong island and Kowloon, and possibly two in the New Territories.
Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Gregory Leung Wing-lap said the proposal would balance the poultry trade's interests and the government's obligation to protect public health.
If the proposal was adopted, other wet markets in the city would only be allowed to sell chilled and frozen chicken.
The proposal will be presented in the next round of consultations on measures to improve hygiene in wet markets and to reduce human contact with live poultry.
Tsui Ming-tuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Live Poultry Wholesale Association, said the proposal to set up just three to four designated fresh chicken markets was unfeasible.
'How could we ask housewives to travel an hour or more just to buy chicken? Why doesn't the government ask Hong Kong people to buy chicken in Shenzhen?'
In August, Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, head of the government's Team Clean, laid down four options for the future of poultry sales.
The first is a complete ban on the sale of live poultry, giving buyers access to only chilled and frozen poultry. The second option is a ban of retail sales of live poultry but allowing importation from the mainland and local farms. All live poultry would be killed at a central slaughterhouse and chilled before delivery to markets.
The third, favoured, option is similar, but the slaughtered poultry would not go through the chilling process at the slaughterhouse, being sold rather as 'warm' meat. Under the final option, live chickens would be segregated from customers at markets with plastic screens.
Chicken farmers and traders have voiced strong objections to central slaughtering, saying such a radical step would seriously compromise their livelihood.
Chicken traders favour the option of using plastic partitions.
Mr Leung told the South China Morning Post that the third option could better balance the interests of the trade, people's culture of eating fresh chicken, and the protection of public health. There would be thorough consultation before a decision was made, he said.
Mr Leung said the government had studied the plan for delivering warm chicken meat to wet markets. But it found fresh chicken meat begins to rot after four hours when the air temperature is 35 degrees Celsius, he said.
The government is prepared to face resistance from the poultry trade, Mr Leung said. 'Inevitably some people may lose out from the changes, but it happens to other sectors as well.'
The consultation document will be issued in December.