Poll backs centralised slaughter of chickens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 June, 2004, 12:00am

66pc would give up live poultry from local retailers to stop bird flu, it finds

Two-thirds of people would be prepared to abandon live chicken retail outlets for a central slaughterhouse selling fresh chickens in order to prevent a bird flu outbreak, a survey has found.

The faculty of medicine at Hong Kong University interviewed 986 people at random by telephone from mid-February to mid-March about their chicken-buying habits and preferred prevention methods against bird flu.

The average household bought 18 live chickens a year, or about one every three weeks. From that, the university calculated there were 3.48 million person-to-chicken contacts each year.

Each posed a risk of a transmission from bird to human, said Gabriel Matthew Leung, clinical associate professor of the university's department of community medicine.

'I think bird and human separation is the long-term strategy,' he said. 'The best method is central slaughtering.'

While 66 per cent of respondents said they would accept a central slaughterhouse that sold fresh chickens, only 41 per cent said they would accept one that sold chilled or frozen chicken.

The survey results gave a preview of what the government can expect from its public consultation on the slaughterhouse issue.

The public has been asked if they prefer centralised or regional slaughtering of chickens. The three-month consultation will end on July 2.

Regulated slaughtering of chickens is seen as the long-term solution to prevent bird flu outbreaks as it reduces human exposure to the birds. Avian flu is transmitted through the air or fluids.

'We can't with any degree of certainty say that if you do this that you will completely eliminate that risk,' Dr Leung said. 'What we can say with confidence is that it will reduce the risk of that happening.'

Dr Leung also warned about the risk of transmission to people who already had another form of influenza. The genes of the two strains could combine, resulting in a new one that could be spread through humans.

Based on average flu infection rates and human exposure to poultry, the researchers calculated there were 133,800 contacts between a live chicken and a person with human flu each year.

Until a central slaughterhouse is built, the government has limited imports of live chickens from the mainland to 30,000 a day. It also increased market cleaning days to twice a month and installed plastic dividers at chicken stalls.

Officials have offered to buy back 800 stall licences, but industry representatives say the offer is too low.

The Legislative Council panel on food safety and environmental hygiene will discuss the long-term strategy on bird flu this morning.