Plans for central slaughtering are expected to be scaled down following the surrender of 72 per cent of poultry retailers' licences, the health minister said yesterday.
Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said a slaughterhouse might be up and running earlier than announced.
About HK$660 million in ex gratia payments will be made to those who surrendered licences by the deadline on Wednesday. They include 333 retailers, 29 poultry farmers, 50 wholesalers and 199 transporters.
The number of retail stalls will be reduced to 131 across the city, including 85 wet-market stallholders and 46 fresh-provision shop owners.
Dr Chow said the reduced supply meant the slaughterhouse would be far smaller and its planning and implementation could be done earlier.
'We now expect that local farms will produce roughly only about 5,000 or 6,000 chickens a day. The scale of this poultry slaughtering plant will be much smaller than what we have already planned,' he said.
The Food and Health Bureau previously said the slaughterhouse might be open by 2010. Yesterday a bureau spokesman said the target date might remain. The government is considering a site in Man Kam To Road, north of Sheung Shui.
Dr Chow said the reduction in chicken supply would ensure that poultry was being slaughtered in a more hygienic and better environment. 'In controlling avian influenza, this is an effective policy,' he said.
Some retailers say they have no choice but to remain in the business.
A vendor at Tai Po wet market, Mrs Chong, said: 'What else can I do? I have no choice but to accept it. I can't accept the government buyout plan, as I find the amount is too little and unjust. So I chose to stay.'
Another vendor, at Kowloon City wet market, who gave her name as Ling Tse, echoed her view.
'There's no other way for us to think about it. We still have to run our business.'
Meanwhile, action would be taken against two stallholders found operating yesterday despite surrendering their licences, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said.
The government also warned that stallowners would be disqualified from the buyout scheme if they were found renting out their stalls.
Alice Lau Yim, deputy director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, made the remarks following a case reported on Cable TV.
A stallholder was found operating at Lai Wan Market in Mei Foo despite the owner having applied for a government buyout. A notice issued by the department has been put up on the stall.
The stallholder claimed he paid HK$600,000 to the stallowner to buy out the operating right decades ago.
The number of chickens to be supplied daily by Hong Kong farms is expected to be between 5,000 and: 6,000