Angry demonstrators descend on government offices as price of a two-catty bird hits HK$75
Live-poultry traders hurled eggs and empty cages to the ground in Central yesterday in protest against curbs on the supply of chickens.
About 40 wholesalers and retailers took part in the demonstration outside the Murray Building, which houses the office of health minister York Chow Yat-ngok, during which some of them clashed with police.
The traders remaining after the government buyout of licences are angered by the reduction in the supply of live chickens to a little more than 10,000 a day - less than half the previous level. The curbs, imposed shortly after the end of the buyout last week, have sent prices soaring.
Poultry Wholesalers Association chairman Tsui Ming-tuen said the supply cap was 'not reasonable' because most people still preferred live chicken despite the reduced number of retailers.
Only 131 retailers - about 28 per cent of the trade - remained in business at the end of the buyout scheme, which aimed to scale down the trade to reduce the health risks posed by an outbreak of bird flu. 'We follow the government's instructions not to keep chickens overnight in our stalls,' Mr Tsui said. 'Why does it cut the supply? The retailers cannot maintain their businesses as we do not have enough stock.'
Health officials will meet traders this week to discuss supplies.
Mr Tsui said vendors would demand that the live chicken supply return to the previous level - 25,000 on weekdays and 40,000 on weekends.
During the buyout scheme, which included retailers, farmers, wholesalers and transporters, one-off grants to 835 applicants amounted to HK$660 million.
Dr Chow said on Thursday the retail capacity would be reduced considering the overnight stocking of live chickens in wholesale markets and the rising market share of chilled and frozen chickens.
The total supply of live chickens fell from 25,150 on September 22 to 10,700 yesterday. The wholesale price, which had been hovering around HK$18.60 a catty before hitting HK$20.50 on Wednesday, reached HK$28.50 yesterday.
Sham Shui Po retailer Wong Wing-nam said the reduced supply had already attracted strong criticism from his customers. 'What the government's doing is illogical. Fewer retailers doesn't mean that the demand has dropped,' he said, adding that it was getting more difficult for him to secure a supply of live chickens from the wholesale market.
Tai Kwok Tsui wet market retailer Mak Ching-yee said he was caught in a quandary over whether to lift the retail price. 'I just raised the prices two days ago and I am not sure if I should further lift it now as the wholesale price has gone up again,' he said. 'Too high a price rise would certainly hit demand.'
He said the price of chicken had almost hit a historical high due to the capped supply, with a two-catty chicken selling for HK$75 - HK$20 more than two weeks ago.