Legislators voiced doubts yesterday about private companies' willingness to operate a central chicken slaughterhouse in Sheung Shui, with one suggesting Hong Kong stop importing live chickens altogether.
The health minister insisted four companies were interested in operating the abattoir in the northern New Territories town, but conceded another way out would be needed if none was interested in proceeding.
The government wants the plant running by 2009, but the Heung Yee Kuk and North District Council have objected to the site chosen for the facility. A second site in Sheung Shui, more palatable to residents, is being considered.
Catering sector legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan doubted private companies were interested in operating in Sheung Shui. He said he understood one bidder intended to pull out now the government had switched the slaughterhouse site from Western to Sheung Shui.
He accused Health Secretary York Chow Yat-ngok of being schizophrenic for advocating central slaughtering to reduce disease risks, while retaining poultry farms in Hong Kong.
'If that is the case, I do not believe we need live poultry from Shenzhen to be slaughtered in Hong Kong.
'I think the way out is to import chilled chicken from Shenzhen. Live chickens locally should be slaughtered at local farms,' Mr Cheung said.
Dr Chow said the argument was not new. 'We have discussed this many, many times. Hong Kong is a special place. People want chicken freshly slaughtered. They do not prefer chilled or frozen chicken.'