Farmers threaten to let chickens run amok
Joyce Man and Peter So
Farmers warn they may unleash their chickens on the streets of Hong Kong over the government's offer compensation for shutting their businesses, which they called insulting.
Transporters of live chickens have, meanwhile, vowed to strike.
Representatives of the poultry industry will gather at the only wholesale chicken market, in Cheung Sha Wan, tomorrow to discuss what to do next.
'We are not ready to give up on live chickens yet,' said Wong Tak-leung, chairman of the Kowloon Poultry Transporter and Poulterer Association.
Government officials met wholesalers, transporters, farmers and retailers separately yesterday.
Twelve farmers from the New Territories Chicken Breeders Association walked out of a meeting with the Food and Health Bureau in the morning after learning of the 'insulting offer', the association's deputy secretary, Lee Leung-kei, said.
'We will not rule out radical action,' Wong Yee-chuen, the association's secretary, said. Asked what that might be, he replied: 'To release our chickens in the streets.'
Mr Wong said they had planned to discuss with the government what to do with those chickens now on the farms, but the meeting turned out to be about compensation for closing down all the farms.
Lawmaker Vincent Fang Kang, for the wholesale and retail sector, said more talks with the government were scheduled through the weekend and on Monday, when the poultry industry must reply to the government's compensation proposals.
'We don't even need to wait to reply. We say 'no' now,' Tsui Ming-tuen, head of the Poultry Wholesalers Association, said. Mr Tsui said surrenders should be voluntary and compensation based on income instead of rent.
Tang Wai-lun, who owns a 400,000 square metre farm in Yuen Long, said the proposed compensation would be far from sufficient to cover his losses and he could not accept it.
'The government acts like a barbarian to clear out our businesses without valid grounds,' said Mr Tang, who spent more than HK$30 million eight years ago to set up a farm to breed 160,000 chickens.
One driver surnamed Lo, in his 50s, has transported chickens for 30 years. He used to carry 3,000 to 4,500 a day, making HK$300 to HK$500.
'I'm going to jump off a building. With this so-called compensation, you can't even buy a car tyre,' Mr Lo said. 'Now I don't know how to put my three children through school.'
Mak Ching-yee, a chicken retailer in Tai Kok Tsui, estimated his shop would get the minimum HK$600,000 compensation if he accepted the offer - and he would have to share it with his two partners. Mr Mak said the shared payout would be insufficient to compensate for his losses. He earns about HK$20,000 a month.
He said he would have difficulty in changing jobs after two decades in the business. 'Maybe I can only be a security guard,' he said.
Selling chilled chickens would not be an option because they would be unable to compete with wholesalers, Mr Mak said.
The proposed ban on keeping stocks of chickens overnight would cost them their business, he said.
'The housewives won't buy chicken from us in the morning because they will know we will sell it at lower prices in the evening before all have to be culled.'
A summary of the latest anti-bird-flu measures, what the government is offering and what the trade is demanding
Measure: buy-back of farm licences
HK$42 per chicken older than 30 days
HK$20 per chicken younger than 30 days
HK$450,000 ex gratia payment
Compensation based on farm sizes, ranging from HK$680,000 to HK$15m or more for total of HK$1b
HK$50 per chicken older than 30 days
Allow chicks and eggs to survive
Allow business to continue
Measure: mandatory buy-out of licences
Triple the compensation of 2005 voluntary surrender scheme. From HK$1.5m to HK$4.97m to go to individual wholesalers, with government prepared to pay up to HK$140m
Allow them to stay in business, but increase cleaning of wholesale market stalls, such as three times per month or once per week
Voluntary buy-out of licences
Compensation to be based on lost earnings, not rent
Measures: buy back licences of 469 retailers and ban chickens in stalls overnight
Triple the compensation of 2005 licence surrender scheme - 90 per cent of retailers will receive HK$750,000, more than 40 per cent will receive more than HK$1m and total compensation to amount to HK$430m
Allow business to continue
Chickens can be kept overnight in stalls
Ex gratia compensation for 21-day closure of markets (HK$60,000 for government markets, HK$80,000 for fresh provision stores)