The industry is outraged, labelling proposed compensation as inadequate All 147 chicken farms in Hong Kong would be shut permanently if two of them became infected with avian flu at the same time, under a government plan to control the spread of the deadly virus. The plan, disclosed yesterday, was greeted with outrage by chicken farmers who said the proposed compensation was too small for people losing their livelihood. But the government and health experts said tough measures were needed to combat the threat of a global H5N1 pandemic. Drafting of the new law is under way, to give the government the power to close the farms. 'We will consider Hong Kong as having an outbreak if a second farm is found to be infected with the H5 virus within days after the first one,' said Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Eddy Chan Yuk-tak. 'Both the government and the community would consider it a real threat to public health, no matter whether the two farms are related. 'Hong Kong farms have one of the best biosecurity facilities in the world. If our local farms are still attacked by avian flu, it means that our current measures are no longer effective in protecting the city from the virus,' Mr Chan told a meeting of the Legislative Council's food safety and environmental hygiene panel yesterday. At the same meeting, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok admitted that it would be a 'difficult and painful' decision if the government had to shut the farms. He estimated that 6,500 farm, wholesale and retail workers would be affected. The government plans to offer an ex gratia payment of between $300,000 and $3 million for each local farm to surrender its licence. Each wholesaler would be compensated with up to $1.18 million. Mr Chan said live chickens would be imported from the mainland if all local farms were shut down. But such imports would be suspended if an outbreak happened on the mainland too. He also said the government planned to build at least three regional slaughtering centres in three years, on Hong Kong Island, in Kowloon and the New Territories. New Territories Chicken Breeders' Association spokesman Lee Leung-kei said the sector was outraged by the plans. Mr Lee said the ex gratia payments would not be enough to cover the farms' losses, with some having invested millions to improve biosecurity in line with government requirements. He warned the farmers might take drastic action if they lost their livelihood. 'The government is completely unreasonable, and has ignored all the efforts and investments we have made,' Mr Lee said. Agriculture and fisheries constituency legislator Wong Yung-kan accused the government of creating a public panic. However, Yuen Kwok-yung, chair professor of the department of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, supported the government plan. 'We have learned a painful lesson from the Sars outbreak. We cannot afford another outbreak in terms of the losses of human life and the severe blow to the economy and global image of Hong Kong,' Professor Yuen said. World Health Organisation regional spokesman Peter Cordingley said Hong Kong had some of the best precautions in the world. 'But if H5N1 flu becomes a human pandemic, nowhere in the world will be safe,' he said. On Saturday, Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai said the government planned to cut the number of live chickens in Hong Kong by half, to shorten the culling time if the city was hit by another outbreak of bird flu.