Fresh chicken could be off the menu for the second time this year from Monday as a poultry traders' association urges retailers to suspend sales in protest at soaring wholesale prices.
At least 10 of the city's 130 live-chicken retailers have so far agreed to join the boycott, while owners of half the 40 or so trucks used to transport the birds have also agreed to take part after wholesalers doubled their prices.
They believe wholesalers are cashing in on a lack of competition from mainland imports, which made up about half the live chickens sold until a bird-flu scare in January forced an import ban, along with a three-week suspension of all live poultry sales.
"We're not making any profits even though we're back in business," said Leung Wai-tong of the Poultry Dealers and Workers Association. "It's even worse than during the 21-day suspension." The supply of live chickens has fallen from 25,000 a day in mid-February, as farms looked to sell off chickens accumulated during the suspension, to 8,200 a day.
Leung said local farms may have had no space to bring in new chicks during the suspension, which might be causing restricted supplies now.
About 90 per cent of chicken retailers and transporters who attended a protest meeting at Cheung Sha Wan Wholesale Market yesterday supported the boycott. They expect it to last until imports resume. The government says that will not happen until June, when arrangements will be in place to separate local and imported birds in the event of an outbreak of bird flu.
Wholesale prices have risen from HK$20 per catty (600 grams) in January to HK$40 in the past week. Retailers now ask HK$180 for a three-catty chicken - a price traders say scares off customers.
"People see our price tags from a distance and they won't come over. How can we carry out our trade?" said Leung. He claims his Mong Kok-based business is bringing in just HK$2,000 per day but he has to meet operating costs of HK$4,000 a day.
Ma Ping-lung, Ngau Chi Wan Market's only live-chicken seller, said: "I lose money when I'm in business and I lose money when I'm not. I'd rather take a rest."
Kowloon Poultry Transporter and Poulterer Association president Yeung Chi-lun said 20 trucks operated by members would join the boycott. Losses were HK$300 to HK$500 per truck, per day.
Most poultry farmers and wholesalers contacted by the Post yesterday did not respond to requests for comment on why they had increased prices.
Yuen Long farmer David Lam Po-sang said he had maintained the same prices for his emperor chickens - a local breed. "We are receiving even more orders than before," Lam said.
The Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association said a growing number of restaurants were ordering frozen or chilled birds.
"There are fewer orders for live chickens as the dining industry cannot afford the high prices," chairman Steven Wong Wai-chuen said. "Some people order chilled birds instead, but some are just not serving chicken."
A government spokesman said the supply of local chickens would improve next month.