Poultry trade may go to court to block flu curbs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 June, 2008, 12:00am

The poultry industry has asked the government to set aside a proposal to buy back chicken-trade licences and ban the overnight stocking of live birds in Hong Kong. It warned they may seek a judicial review if they cannot resume business next month.

More than 100 chicken farmers, poultry transporters, retailers and wholesalers met yesterday at the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market to discuss the government's HK$1 billion compensation package, unveiled on Friday, to end the sale of live chickens.

The measures are being proposed to halt the spread of bird flu.

The government hopes the trade will accept the offer at meetings tomorrow. It warned that if there was no consensus before July 2 - the end of a 21-day ban on imports and sales - it would legislate against the keeping of live chickens overnight in markets.

The chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Poultry Dealers and Workers Association, Wong Wing-nam, said: 'The trade cannot reach a consensus on the proposal to clear out chickens every day and the compensation package in such a short period of time ... this is an issue about the rest of our lives.

'We need more time to consult our members, hence we will launch a study. If the government doesn't allow us to resume our business on July 2, we will not rule out the possibility of seeking a judicial review.'

But Mr Wong said the industry was open to options, and demanded a meeting with the secretary for food and health as soon as possible.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has scheduled a meeting with live-chicken retailers tomorrow, and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will meet poultry transporters and wholesalers, also tomorrow.

The chicken trade has asked the government to act on the accumulation of more than 500,000 chickens ready for sale at local farms.

'The government does not allow me to sell [my chickens], and there are so many chickens on my farm,' local farmer Ngou Sin said. 'It needs to solve the problem of crowding, otherwise my chickens will get sick.'

The president of the Hong Kong Poultry Wholesalers' Association, Tsui Ming-tuen, said wholesalers generally favoured the proposal to remove live chickens from shops every night. But retailers opposed it because of the costs.

Steven Wong Wai-chuen, the chairman of the Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association, suggested the food and hygiene department write to retailers asking their opinions on selling back their licences and the level of compensation.

The government's compensation package ranges from about HK$15 million for the biggest farms up to HK$4.97 million for a wholesaler and HK$1 million for a retailer. Transporters will be offered HK$150,000 and poultry workers HK$35,000. But most industry players want to continue their business and many think the compensation is not enough.

The Food and Health Bureau yesterday said it hoped the industry would continue talks with the government on the package.