Chicken cull hits dealers, but Hong Kong restaurants cope
Ada Lee and Lo Wei
The culling of the city's stock of live chickens yesterday barely ruffled feathers among Chinese restaurants preparing for the Lunar New Year, with many businesses relying on frozen poultry stocks.
But dealers fared less well, with some struggling to pay extra staff hired to cover the festive period.
Chicken dishes are traditionally indispensable to New Year celebrations, while some families use fresh chicken dishes for religious rituals.
But the threat of bird flu, coupled with lower costs, had prompted more than 90 per cent of restaurants to use frozen fowl, which posed a much lower risk, Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said yesterday.
"This decade has seen a few incidents of bird flu, but their impact on restaurants has been minimal," Wong said.
Even without the cull, the city's daily stock of 30,000 or so live chickens was far from enough to cover the demand for 200,000 birds citywide, he said.
The city started slaughtering 20,000 chickens at the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market yesterday after the fatal H7N9 strain of bird flu was detected in poultry imported from the mainland.
Watch: Hong Kong culls 20,000 chickens after H7N9 found
Restaurant chains Tao Heung and Super Star said the cull would not affect them as they used only frozen chickens.
A spokeswoman for Super Star said the group had received requests from a few customers to replace chicken dishes with other types of food.
At Palace Restaurant, orders for chicken had dipped 30 per cent since human cases of bird flu appeared on the mainland, restaurateur Yeung Wai-sing, chairman of the Association for the Hong Kong Catering Services Management, said.
Business in general had not been affected, Yeung said.
"Frozen chickens are safe and taste similar to fresh ones, and Hongkongers have become very used to them. In a way, frozen chickens are very fresh, too. They are killed only the night before."
At the Bowrington Road market in Causeway Bay, a vendor said she would stock up on frozen fowl. Still, she expected a drop in business - daily sales usually hit more than 200 birds during festive seasons, she said.
The vendor priced her frozen chickens at HK$60 each yesterday; other stalls were asking HK$70 to HK$110.
For retailers and dealers, however, the cull was bad news.
Poultry Dealers and Workers Association officer Leung Wai-tong, said some shop owners had hired extra staff for the Lunar New Year, but were now struggling to pay them. Leung expected his own stall to lose about HK$100,000 due to the culling.
New Territories Chicken Breeders Association committee member David Lam Po-sang, who was hoping to sell 10,000 of the 80,000 chickens on his Yuen Long farm, said the culling meant his year's work had been in vain.