Curtains for live chicken trade as leaders turn in their licences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 July, 2008, 12:00am

In a symbolic gesture to mark the end of the live poultry trade, industry leader Steven Wong Wai-chuen and two other members of the Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association took the lead by turning in their operating licences yesterday.

They are part of the one-third of the city's live chicken vendors who have surrendered their licences. Mr Wong expected 70 per cent of live chicken vendors to do the same.

Operators of chicken stalls have until Thursday to give up their licences to be eligible for ex gratia payments from the government.

'We are the backbone of the association,' said Mr Wong, its chairman. 'If others see us surrender our licences, they will do the same.'

It is crucial that Mr Wong convinces operators to turn in their licences, because the government will only give them the ex gratia payments if 85 per cent of the city's 469 stallholders do so.

Under the government's plan, each stallholder would receive HK$800,000 to HK$3.2 million in compensation, depending on the size of their stall.

Mr Wong urged government officials to lower the figure to 80 per cent because he was concerned that some stallholders might hold on to their licences for short-term profit or to try to get a bigger payoff.

'Lately, some wholesalers have been telling retailers that chicken prices will not rise and that there'd be a lot of supply, making some small stallholders indecisive,' he said.

The industry would not rule out industrial action if the government refused to pay retailers who turned in their licences, he added.

'If 70 per cent of stallholders surrendered their licences and the government refused to compensate us, we'd march to the Chief Executive's Office to sleep on the street.'

The payments to stallholders are part of a HK$1.1 billion plan to compensate chicken farmers, wholesalers, transporters and retailers for ending the live chicken trade. The idea is to minimise human contact with chickens as a precautionary measure against bird flu.

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

Farmers, wholesalers and transporters will have until September 24 to turn in their licences. Live chicken retailers who turned in their licences will still be able to sell the birds until that date.

Many chicken vendors were planning to switch to selling frozen chicken and pork or fresh fish as an alternative way to make a living, Mr Wong said.

In a meeting with Chu Lan-ying, assistant director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Mr Wong urged the government to speed up the process of granting chicken and pork licences to live poultry retailers.

Sales of live chickens resumed on July 2 after a three-week ban over the H5N1 virus being detected in four retail markets. Since the resumption of live chicken sales, all unsold chickens have to be killed at 8pm each day.

Poultry payback

The government will compensate the city's 469 chicken retailers for giving up their licences

The package will cost (in HK dollars) about $514m




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