H7N9 avian flu

Hong Kong sale of live chickens recommended to remain on menu

But study also recommends the enforcement of more stringent measures

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2017, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 3:07pm

In a city where fresh chicken is an important tradition, Hong Kong is looking to continue the sale of live poultry despite the threat of bird flu, as the long debated idea of building a central slaughterhouse is deemed unviable.

The government launched a two-month public consultation exercise on Monday to gather final feedback after a consultancy study recommended that retail sales of live poultry should be maintained and no ban imposed on imports from the mainland.

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The study suggested more stringent precautionary measures against bird flu instead.

The recommendations in the study, which the government commissioned in 2015, included introducing extra vaccines, ­conducting more bird flu tests and moving the poultry wholesale market from crowded Cheung Sha Wan to less populated Sheung Shui.

Health authorities have long sought a solution to the risk posed by live poultry being sold in wet markets, ever since the first human outbreak of bird flu in 1997.

A much touted solution, floated since the early 2000s, was to build a central slaughterhouse to keep live poultry away from the general population.

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A Sheung Shui site was identified for the facility, which was never built, while farmers and vendors were encouraged to ­return their licences under two government schemes in 2004 and 2008. Local chicken farms were shut, reducing the number from more than 130 in 2006 to 29 now.

However, the central slaughtering plan was shelved in 2010, with the government citing a “greatly reduced” risk of avian flu.

No avian flu outbreak has ever been recorded in Hong Kong
Dr Ko Wing-man, health minister

The study concluded that the live poultry trade at retail level could continue as long as the authorities stepped up safety measures. It also described the city’s anti-bird flu measures as among the most comprehensive and stringent in the world.

“Areas of import, local farms, wholesale and retail, all adopt stringent biosecurity and infection control measures, therefore no avian flu outbreak has ever been recorded in Hong Kong,” health minister Dr Ko Wing-man said.

On a significant note, close to half of 1,000 interviewees in a ­survey conducted by the consultant preferred eating freshly slaughtered chicken.

The central slaughtering plan was “deemed unviable” for now. The study found that farms faced limitations over installing bio­security facilities, while a centralised facility raised questions over ­commercial viability.

But it did not touch on whether to issue more licences to ­vendors or farmers to support the trade.