Poultry trade representatives yesterday urged the government not to introduce a centralised slaughtering system, saying live chicken sales were part of the city's 'unique culinary culture'. The claim was contained in a petition handed to the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau's office in Central carrying 7,000 signatures. However, it was not an official submission to a consultation on the government proposal to sell chilled or frozen poultry through a centralised slaughterhouse, or regional slaughterhouses. The three-month consultation on the proposal, prompted by fears of bird flu outbreaks, ended yesterday. 'It is important to improve conditions and facilities in wet markets, but it is also crucial to improve farming policy,' said Peter Wong Chun-kow, chief secretary of the Joint Committees of Poultry, Livestock and Associated Trades. 'It is more effective to monitor the source of the disease than change the ways chickens are sold.' Mr Wong said buying live chickens was part of Hong Kong's 'unique culinary culture' and the government should not wipe it out. He said the poultry trade had also rejected another government effort to scale down the industry under a voluntary scheme introduced in May to buy back half the city's 800 licensed poultry stalls. Live poultry imports from the mainland resumed in May after a four-month ban as a precaution against bird flu. But the number of daily sales has been whittled down from 110,000 to 30,000. Meanwhile, a $328.4 million scheme to help live poultry retailers surrender their licences was yesterday approved by the Legislative Council's Finance Committee. The sum includes $236.4 million for making ex-gratia payments to the retailers who choose to surrender their fresh provision shop licences and $83 million for retraining courses and one-off grants to assist retail workers.