SCMP Saturday, May 19, 2001


Payouts too low, say retailers

MICHELLE CHAK and FLORENCE NG

Live-chicken retailers were in favour of the cull yesterday but grumbled over low compensation and the long sales ban on live poultry.
Operators at public markets run by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Housing Authority will receive a one-off special allowance of $30,000, up from $24,000 in 1997. Rentals will also be waived during the ban, which will run until mid-July. Operators at private markets will receive a lump-sum of $60,000.
The retailers will be given $34 for each chicken and between $7 and $45 each for other birds. They would also receive $1 for each bird they kill.
Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung said last night the Government would consider increasing payouts.
Local poultry farmers will also receive compensation at similar levels. The Government said the compensation scheme would cost about $80 million.
Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan, Director for Food and Environmental Hygiene, told a retailers' meeting at City Hall there would be a four-week ban after the slaughter.
Stephen Wong Wai-chuen, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Poultry Retailers' Association said: "Four weeks is too long. It will leave at least 2,000 workers in the trade without income for a whole month. "This compensation is just enough for stall owners to cover rent and other costs. It is not enough to pay our staff. The Government should also pay $3,000 for each of our staff," Mr Wong said.
Tang Siu-hang, a poultry stall owner at Tai Shing Street market in Wong Tai Sin - one of the seven markets closed yesterday - said 60 chickens worth about $2,400 were killed at his store. "I wish the authorities had slaughtered the chickens earlier - perhaps at the end of last month," he said. "I don't know how much we will lose this time."
Some traders were worried that the department would introduce even stricter hygiene rules. Law Kwong-sun, vice-chairman of the Association of Hong Kong and Kowloon Poultry Retailers, said: "No one follows the present hygiene rules at all. It is impossible as the facilities are too expensive."
Retailers strongly resented a proposal that they take two days off a month to clean their stores. They said it would cost them too much money. Farmers said the Government should not kill their birds because no infection had been detected in their flocks.
An industry representative said farmers would try to launch a labelling scheme for their products, to identify mainland imports and help trace infections.
One Wong Tai Sin shopper said: "I'll not buy fresh chicken any more - I'll get frozen ones from the supermarket instead. They should be safe."