Traders forced to kill scores of chickens to beat daily deadline
Austin Chiu, Kobi Chan and Ng Kang-chung
Scores of chickens had to be killed yesterday because of the new ban on the overnight stocking of unsold poultry at markets, traders said.
Some desperate chicken vendors even staged clearance sales at markets from late afternoon in a bid to get rid of as many birds as possible before the 8pm deadline. Since sales resumed on Wednesday after a 21-day ban, it appeared that fewer people were eating chicken, and some vendors reported a drop in demand.
Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association chairman Steven Wong Wai-chuen said: 'It is only natural that diners' interest in chickens will cool down gradually. We heard that some vendors needed to cut prices near the end of the day. Some might have needed to cull their unsold birds. Our estimate was perhaps 100.'
At his own business, Mr Wong said he sold all birds by 3pm yesterday, compared with 10.30am on Wednesday. He expected to clear his stock by about 6pm today.
Some traders at markets in Tai Kok Tsui and Quarry Bay started cutting prices by 10 per cent from 5pm. One Tai Kok Tsui hawker, Mak Ching-yee, said he had begun killing unsold chickens at about 5pm.
Live-chicken stalls reopened for business on Wednesday after a three-week sale ban imposed when the H5N1 virus was detected in samples taken from four local retail markets early last month. New rules state any unsold poultry at the end of the business day at 8pm has to be slaughtered to prevent further bird flu outbreaks.
A compensation package has also been offered by the government for traders, farmers and other workers in the poultry industry if business licences are given up.
The Food and Health Bureau is expected to seek approval from Legco's finance committee for HK$1.12 billion in funding for a compensation package for poultry traders. The revised package is about 10 per cent more generous than one proposed a week ago. For example, chicken farmers are now entitled to up to a HK$2.8 million one-off payment, on top of other compensation for licences, chickens and even eggs.
Meetings between chicken farmers and officials remained stalled yesterday. About 40 farmers met Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department officials, urging the government to stop importing live chickens from the mainland to resolve the unsold-chicken problem on local farms. Failing to reach consensus, the farmers then headed to the Murray Building and demanded to meet officials of the Food and Health Bureau.
New Territories Chicken Breeders Association secretary Wong Yee-chuen said: 'The department told us to wait until July 24 to see how many chicken retailers surrendered licences, then they would deal with those 400,000 live chickens on our farms.'
Mr Wong estimated the farmers would lose a total of HK$4.8 million.
A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department last night suggested local chicken farmers cut prices to clear stock. He said the department would encourage wholesalers and restaurants to buy more local chickens whenever possible to help farmers.
But Mr Wong said retailers could do little. 'We can't force people to buy local chickens,' he said.