Lawmakers accused Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying of being insensitive to stricken chicken farmers by urging Hongkongers to consider ending their tradition of buying live poultry for cooking.
At a special meeting of the Legislative Council on Wednesday morning, legislators said Leung had “picked the wrong time” to make his comments as farmers counted the cost of Tuesday’s cull of 20,000 birds and a three-week ban on live sales that will cover the usually lucrative Lunar New Year holiday.
The cull was ordered after an imported chicken from the mainland was found to be carrying the H7N9 bird flu virus on Monday.
Watch: Hong Kong culls 20,000 chickens after H7N9 found
On Tuesday, Leung asked Hongkongers to consider whether their tradition of buying live chicken at wet markets should be continued.
Among those to criticise Leung was Steven Ho Chun-yin, who represents the agriculture and fisheries sector in Legco.
“The government should first offer a proper compensation for local chicken farmers,” Ho said.
Other lawmakers urged the government to review rules on live poultry imports from the mainland, given that the risk of bird flu was clearly coming from across the border.
But Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man insisted it was necessary to consider the matter of live sales as the city once again faced the threat of bird flu.
“If the threat is not imminent, people will ask why we are telling people to consider this question [of whether to stop selling live chicken]. So it is time to tell the public to consider it,” Ko said. “But it is true that this is not the most urgent thing to be handled or decided right now.”
He said the government might appoint consultants to consider the issue in the long term.
He also said the government would talk to local farmers about whether they could supply enough poultry to meet demand in the city without imports from the mainland.
At the meeting, lawmakers passed a non-binding motion urging the government to keep birds imported from the mainland separate from local birds until test results were available.
They also urged the Food and Health Bureau to properly compensate local farmers, who had prepared at least 300,000 live chickens for the Lunar New Year sales peak.
Ko said the bureau was still working out the details of compensation.
Mainland officials had so far taken more than 200 samples from farms that import chickens to Hong Kong, but none had tested positive, Ko said.