Local farmers, stuck with 270,000 older chickens after the trade in live poultry was suspended in January, want the government to set a quota to make the sale of over age chickens a priority.
Tang Wai-lun, of the New Territories Chicken Breeders Association, said farmers had been trying to clear the backlog by selling them cheaply since sales of local live poultry resumed three weeks ago, but only about half of the 600,000 older chickens have been sold.
Tang has been discussing a priority system with Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department officials under which retailers and wholesalers would have to buy a set quota of older chickens each day.
"We hope that they can make up half of the total sold by retailers each day, which would be about 7,000 [older] chickens. I believe the 270,000 chickens will take more than a month to sell," Tang said.
About 3,000 older chickens are sold each day at the moment, with no regulation on the proportion of old and young chickens for sale.
Chickens are usually sold at 90 days. Some of those in local farms are now up to 180 days old.
The accumulation also means farmers are unable to bring new chicks to their farms, which could result in a shortage of live chicken in the next few months, breeders say.
About 13,000 local and 7,000 mainland-imported live birds are normally supplied to Hong Kong wet markets each day.
The trade was suspended for three weeks at the end of January when a sample from imported poultry was found to be infected with H7N9 bird flu. Local live poultry sales resumed on February 19 but the import ban was extended for four months as the government has yet to set up measures to prevent cross-infection at the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market.
Tang said about 40 per cent of Hong Kong's 29 chicken farms had an excess of old chickens. The sales ban came just before the Lunar New Year holiday, for which many farms had bought in extra stock.
While wholesalers accuse the breeders of holding up stocks so they can artificially inflate prices, breeders complain that retailers are selling the chickens at unacceptably high prices.
Yuen Long chicken farmer Pang Tat-sang said he sold 90-day-old chickens at HK$20 per catty (600 grams) but old chickens could be sold at just HK$12.
About 10,000 of the 13,000 chickens on his farm are over age.
Pang said he usually bought 11,000 chicks each month, but since trade had resumed he had bought in just 5,000.
"I dare not buy too many chicks as I can't get the over age ones out," he said.
A department spokeswoman said last night that it did not set quotas on chicken sales. Sales were dependent on market demand, she added.