Retailers vow to fight on in trade

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 December, 2008, 12:00am

Struggling retailers hit by yet another ban on the sale of live chickens at a time of peak sales have vowed they will stay in the trade.

Ling Tse, who runs a chicken stall in a Kowloon City wet market, said she felt helpless and sad about the ban, as she had been expecting business to improve in the coming week ahead of the winter solstice celebration on December 21.

'Now everything has come to nothing,' she said. 'Many of my loyal customers drive a long way to my stall and they have already told me to save the best chickens for them for their big dinner to celebrate.

'Business usually goes up by 20 to 30 per cent at the winter solstice. Now I have to call all of my customers and tell them the bad news. I just hope it will not happen again when the Lunar New Year is coming.'

Ms Ling is worried she will not make enough money in the coming three weeks to pay rent on her stall. 'But I will not give up. I will stay in the trade to serve my loyal customers.'

Mak Ching-yee, who operates a chicken stall at Tai Kok Tsui, said he also felt helpless.

'There is nothing I can do and nothing I can say really. I just feel destitute,' he said. 'Local chickens count for 50 per cent of the live chicken stock I sell every day.

'Many people are buying more frozen chickens now because of the bad economy. I think more will have to buy frozen chickens to celebrate the winter solstice.'

Mr Mak said frozen chicken cost about HK$30 each while a live bird cost about HK$23 a catty (600 grams).

'The price difference is quite big, as it costs at least HK$60 to HK$70 for a small live chicken - enough to buy two frozen chickens.'

Poultry Wholesalers' Association chairman Tsui Ming-tsuen said he felt very frustrated to see bird flu return even after the government imposed curbs aimed at preventing it.

'We will be forced to take a long break again. The government told us the ban on keeping live chickens overnight would help prevent bird flu, but it seems this is not working.'

He believed the government might have overreacted in its response to the latest outbreak. 'The government could have just banned chickens from local farms that are near the farms where chickens died.'

There are 31 chicken farms in Hong Kong and about 130 retailers still in the live-chicken trade. In September, 27 farmers and 333 retailers applied to surrender licences under a government buyout scheme.

A government spokeswoman said there were no plans to reopen the buyback scheme at this stage.