A scuffle broke out in Hong Kong yesterday between police and about 30 poultry traders who were demanding that the government increase live-chicken imports for the Lunar New Year holiday. They demonstrated outside the Murray Building in Central and demanded that Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok come out to accept their petition. When their request was not met, some of them tried to break through a police cordon to get into the building, and threw eggs and empty cages to the ground. 'Most of the imported live chickens in the city come from Guangdong, where no bird flu outbreak has occurred. 'Why can't the government increase chicken imports?' Poultry Dealers and Workers Association member Ma Ping-loon said. He said the public, not just traders, would be affected by the government's unwillingness to increase daily live-chicken imports from 7,000 to 20,000 for the holiday. 'It is a Chinese tradition to use freshly slaughtered chickens as offerings to the gods, especially during the Lunar New Year,' he said, and predicted that without an increase in supply, chickens would be selling for HK$300 or even HK$350. After about an hour, the protesters tore up their petition and dispersed peacefully. Chicken imports were slashed from 25,000 a day in September after 72 per cent of live-chicken traders accepted compensation to surrender their licences. Imports were suspended for three weeks last month after bird flu was found on a farm in Hong Kong. A spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau urged poultry traders to remain calm. Chicken imports would not be increased because of the risk of bird flu, he said. 'Hong Kong discovered the H5 virus in poultry in a farm and poultry droppings in markets twice last year,' the spokesman said, and poultry and people on the mainland had caught bird flu recently. 'This means the risk of avian influenza is on the high side. To avoid further increasing the risk of avian influenza breaking out [in Hong Kong], we have to maintain daily live-chicken imports from the mainland at the existing level of 7,000.' He said supplies of chilled and frozen chicken were adequate.