About half of Hong Kong's estimated 130 chicken retailers will be closed for business this week in protest at soaring wholesale prices, while traders have warned of a further drop in supply expected in coming weeks putting more pressure on costs.
Organisers of the retail boycott shortened the action from two months to a week as some feared losing workers.
Farmers say they were unable to take in new chicks when all live poultry sales were suspended two months ago because of a bird-flu scare. The supply of market-age chickens is down and will decline further, they say.
Retail prices have risen from about HK$40 per catty (600 grams) in February to around HK$60 now, meaning a three-catty chicken costs HK$180.
Traders are waiting to see what effect the boycott will have on prices, which they say have been pushed up by a lack of competition aided by the continued suspension of live chicken imports.
Lin Tak-hing, chairman of a local poultry wholesalers association, questioned the retailers' action. "Why should we lower the price for the retailers? They are making so much profit," Lin said.
No live chickens were supplied to him yesterday because of the shortage, he said, adding that he expects the situation to last for a few more days. At least four of the city's 10 wholesalers face a similar problem, Lin said.
Poultry Dealers and Workers Association vice-chairman Ma Ping-lung, a retailer in Ngau Tau Kok, said the high prices and decline in sales means retailers are unable to cover their costs. Ma was not optimistic that the week-long boycott would lead wholesalers to lower their prices, but hoped to talk to wholesalers and breeders to resolve the stand-off.
Chicken farmer Lee Leung-kei, of the New Territories Chicken Breeders Association, said wholesalers usually raise prices when supply is short. "Greedy" retailers always call for lower prices, Lee said.
The current wholesale price is around HK$40 per catty and farmers are paid HK$35, said Lee. Two months ago, the wholesale price was at HK$23 and farmers were paid HK$20.
The city's local supply of live chickens has fallen from around 20,000 two months ago to 8,000 last week. Lee expects it to fall to 5,000 towards the end of this month, and rise back up to 10,000 by mid-May.