We will try to lower cost of live chickens in wake of licence buyout, government says The government says it is studying ways to lower the price of live chickens, which have risen by as much as 50 per cent in the aftermath of the administration's buy-back of poultry licences last month. Undersecretary for Food and Health Gabriel Leung made the announcement yesterday at a Legislative Council panel meeting attended by industry representatives. They were invited to air their concerns after traders scuffled with police two weeks ago as they demanded to meet the health minister to complain about cuts in the daily supply of live chickens. Professor Leung said the government understood many traders had complained about the measures put in place after the buyout. 'Firstly, there is the issue of the number of day-old chick imports; then secondly, the number of chickens imported. We formally met the industry, sat down and talked to them in the presence of the food and health secretary on Monday. We are working on it. We will see what we can do for the traders and what we can do to decrease the price,' he said The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the average wholesale price for live chickens was HK$30.80 per catty, compared with about HK$20 before the licence buyout programme that ended on September 24. Retail prices also rose 50 per cent to HK$45 a catty. Professor Leung said there was no indication a shortage of live chickens existed, pointing to the 2,600 left overnight in the wholesale market. But the chairman of the Poultry Wholesalers' Association, Tsui Ming-tuen, said despite the number of retail outlets dropping to 131 from more than 400, demand for live chickens had remained the same. 'The reason there is overnight stock at the wholesale level is due to a supply shortage. Vendors get stable customers like restaurants. They have to choose the best chickens for these customers so some are left over, which they keep at the wholesale market,' Mr Tsui said. Ma Ping-loon, a member of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Poultry Dealers' and Workers' Association, said the 2,600 chickens left at the wholesale market overnight were not excess stock. Instead, he said the market was necessary storage. 'If they were excess stock, the figure should become 4,000 on the second day and 6,000 on the third day. In fact, these leftovers are sold within two hours every morning,' Mr Ma said. The government has cut the daily supply from more than 20,000 to 10,000 in the wake of its buy-back of two-thirds of traders' licences. The buy-back was initiated after the H5N1 bird flu virus was found in chickens at four markets in June. To meet demand, Mr Tsui said live chickens imported from the mainland should number 20,000 a day between Monday and Friday and 30,000 daily on Saturday and Sunday. Catering sector lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, of the Liberal Party, disputed this and said the market for live chickens was huge. 'My wife always goes to buy live chickens and she finds it hard to get one after 11am without making a reservation beforehand. You said you couldn't taste the difference. I can tell you that I know the difference simply by seeing them,' he said. Legislator Albert Chan Wai-yip, of the League of Social Democrats, said the government was to blame for the rising prices. 'Without the interference of the government, chicken prices would not have soared to such a high level,' he said.