Buyout offer sweetened for chicken retailers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2008, 12:00am

Another HK$100 million was being offered to chicken retailers in an effort to persuade them to give up their licences, government sources said yesterday.

The hope is that 90 per cent will agree to the buyout as the city tries to sell its final solution to reduce the risk of bird flu by offering the trade a new HK$1.1 billion package.

A retailers' leader believed that 70 per cent of the 469 stallholders would agree to the new package.

The new offer means that compensation for small stallholders, whose shops have an area of less than 45 square metres, would cost an additional HK$64 million, while the cost of compensating the holders of larger stalls would be an extra HK$32 million.

The total package for the 469 chicken retailers will now be about HK$514 million.

The offer was made during a meeting yesterday afternoon between the retailers and Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officials.

Department officials would visit the 18 districts today to talk to market retailers and get a feel as to how many would surrender their licences, sources said.

The new offer came hours after the Executive Council yesterday gave the go-ahead for the resumption of live-chicken sales next Wednesday - but with a requirement that wet markets would have to kill all unsold chickens at the end of the business day at 8pm. Those who breach the condition will face a fine of HK$50,000 and up to six months in jail if convicted.

Chicken retailers will also have until July 24 to decide whether to accept the ex gratia payment, and farmers and transporters until September 24.

Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok denied that the government was backing down from its earlier tough stance.

'We are giving them some more time to consider, [but] it does not change the policy and the direction,' he said. After the reprieve, 'there won't be any more options'.

The government was still waiting for a counter-proposal from the 50 farmers, refusing to reveal the administration's bottom line, sources also said. On Friday, the government's HK$1 billion package was rejected outright by the trade, which said it was not good enough.

Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Cheuk Wing-hing said the ban on keeping of chickens overnight would make enforcement easier and more targeted.

He said it was difficult to prove a stall was using poultry from unauthorised sources.

The source of the latest outbreak, first detected at Po On Road market in Sham Shui Po on June 3, has still not been determined.

'With daily culling it will make enforcement easier, as we can match the import invoices with the stock in the premises,' Mr Cheuk said.

Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Cheung Siu-hing said she would listen to retailers' suggestions that live chickens left unsold in markets be transferred to the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale markets' holding area overnight.

Steven Wong Wai-chuen, chairman of the Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association, said he believed 70 per cent would be amenable to the new government offer.

Wong Yee-chuen, head of the New Territory Chicken Breeders Association, said more than 90 per cent of the farmers would surrender their licences if they were given 'fair and reasonable' compensation.

What happens next

Friday Ban on overnight keeping of live poultry in wet markets gazetted

July 2 Sale of live chickens imported from mainland and raised locally resumes, but with no overnight stocking.

July 4 Legislative Council Finance Committee to be asked to pass HK$1 billion compensation package.

July 24 Deadline for retailers to surrender their licences.

September 24 Deadline for farm owners and chicken transporters to surrender licences.