Lawmakers yesterday approved a government request for HK$17.7 million in funding to compensate the poultry industry for its losses after a cull of 20,000 birds and a three-week ban on sales of live chickens amid a bird-flu scare.
But poultry importers repeated their threat of "radical" action if a further four-month ban on chickens from the mainland was not eased. They had been due to meet Food and Health Bureau officials last night, but the meeting was postponed until Monday as the officials were unavailable.
Losses for the longer ban on mainland imports were not included in the compensation package approved by the Legislative Council's Finance Committee yesterday.
Under the package, the government will pay HK$30 to wholesalers for each of the 20,000 birds killed in a cull ordered after a sample from a chicken imported from the mainland tested positive for bird flu. The chicken was already at the Cheung Sha Wan poultry market by the time the testing was completed, meaning local as well as imported birds had to be culled.
A further HK$30 will be paid to breeders for each bird that could not be sold at its prime age due to the sales ban, which ended on Wednesday.
The cost of the package was increased by the fact that many traders and breeders had prepared extra stock for the Lunar New Year holiday, which fell in the middle of the ban period.
The government has extended the ban on mainland imports, which make up about 7,000 of the 20,000 live chickens sold in Hong Kong each day, while it finds a way to keep local and imported chickens segregated until tests for bird flu are completed.
Undersecretary for food and health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee told lawmakers: "A separate compensation proposal will be coming up soon to compensate those in the industry who are suffering due to the extended ban on mainland live poultry."
Local breeders had urged the government to suspend imports until arrangements could be made to keep imported and local chickens separate.
Locally-reared fresh chicken has sold well since the ban was lifted, despite a 50 per cent price rise that took the cost to HK$23.60 per catty (600 grams).
Poultry Wholesalers Association chairman Tsui Ming-tuen, whose members deal in imported chicken, said he feared prices would go up further when all of the 600,000 local chickens bred before the ban were sold out.
He said locals would be left with no choice but to pay the prices unless imports resumed.