Vendors break the rules

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 June, 2010, 12:00am

Vendors of live chickens are not adhering to a set of hygiene rules and guidelines aimed at reducing the risk of bird flu outbreaks, with many slaughtering chickens bare-handed and some keeping poultry in overcrowded cages.

This observation was made a day after the government said it would shelve a central slaughterhouse plan - once touted as vital to prevent bird flu - saying the risk of outbreaks had dropped.

The vendors are also breaching requirements to keep the organs of slaughtered birds in a refrigerator and to keep the cages at least 30 centimetres above ground. The requirements - which vendors must observe to keep their licences - were put forward by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in 2001. There is also a set of hygiene guidelines vendors are advised to follow. The department said that since 2001, eight wet market vendors had had their licences revoked for not meeting hygiene requirements. Five appealed to the Municipal Services Appeals Board, which allowed three to start trading again.

Under the hygiene guidelines, vendors are advised to wear gloves and aprons when touching chickens and putting feathers and faeces into bins with lids. Different types of poultry must be put in separate cages, with at least 300 sq cm of individual space for each bird.

But observation of five stalls in three markets in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island revealed few vendors adhering to the rules or guidelines. Most were catching poultry with their bare hands, and staff slaughtered the chickens with only one glove. They did not wash their hands with soap afterwards.

Instead of refrigerating organs, they were displayed in a basket on top of cages at room temperature. In one stall at a Kowloon market, at least 10 chickens were crowded into a narrow cage. In at least two stalls, birds of different species were together. Some were also in cages which were only 10cm above ground.

Infectious disease specialist Dr Lo Wing-lok warned against such practices, but said habits were hard to break. 'I have been observing wet markets for a decade. Some habits just cannot be changed,' he said.