Threat of reprisal if plan dropped Chicken retailers at wet markets have threatened drastic action if the government scraps the buyout scheme for the live poultry trade simply because a minority refuse to give up their licences by today's deadline. The threat came a day after the government refused to lower the threshold for the buyout from 85 per cent to 80 per cent of chicken-trade licence holders. 'From the very beginning, we told the government that 80 per cent of the retailers would join the scheme,' Hong Kong Poultry Wholesalers' and Retailers' Association chairman Steven Wong Wai-chuen said yesterday. 'We strongly believe that no more than 80 per cent of retailers will participate while the remaining 20 per cent would not give up their businesses,' Mr Wong said. In a bid to rid the city of bird flu risks involved in the sale of live chickens, the government put forward what it called a generous compensation package to buy back all chicken-trade licences. But the buyout will go ahead only if at least 85 per cent of the 496 chicken retailers agree to participate by 8pm today. Mr Wong said the minority who wanted to hold their licences mainly provided live chickens to restaurants and were unaffected by the latest requirement that all unsold birds must be killed at the end of the business day at 8pm. 'They know the exact number of live chickens they can sell each day. There is no risk of them losing money if there is any stock left. There is no reason for them to close their businesses,' he said. He said the ban on retailers keeping live chickens overnight - imposed after the deadly H5N1 virus was found in poultry droppings at four wet markets last month - meant most stallholders could barely make ends meet. 'We take very small numbers of chickens every day fearing they cannot be sold by the end of the day. We are choking to death. Our businesses are severely hit,' Mr Wong said. By 6pm yesterday, the poultry association found that 60 per cent of the vendors submitted forms to join the scheme and expected more would hand in the form today. 'But we strongly believe it will fall short of the government's 85 per cent target. The government should still implement the buyout scheme as many of us have already prepared to give up our licences,' Mr Wong said. 'I can tell you that drastic action will be taken if the government really decides to fold the plan, though I cannot tell you what that action will be.' Under the government's proposal, stallholders who surrender their licences would get compensation between HK$800,000 and HK$3.2 million, depending on the size of stalls. Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok said on Tuesday the government had no plan to lower the 85 per cent goal. 'The 85 per cent was proposed by the trade during the negotiation regarding ex gratia payments for them to terminate the business, so this is still our target,' he said. The scheme is the first step in a HK$1.23 billion plan to buy back all chicken-trade licences. Similar schemes will be introduced later for 52 poultry farmers, 71 wholesalers and 250 transporters.