Why did the Chinese chicken cross the road? Because there was no chance of crossing the border – the border to Hong Kong that is. However, from 12 May live poultry imports to Hong Kong from mainland China will resume. Paul French reports from Shanghai.
The future of the poultry industry in southern China will soon be changed for good as Hong Kong Health Chief Yeoh Eng-kiong starts to overhaul the entire business. Yeoh’s new measures include reducing the number of poultry stallholders (most poultry is still sold live in wet markets in Hong Kong) and the number of live chickens they will be permitted to sell.
The ban on live poultry imports from mainland China has been in place since 30 January as a precaution against bird flu. Leaders of the poultry industry in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Poultry Wholesalers and Retailers Association, have hailed the ending of the ban as a milestone in the war against bird flu.
The ban was originally designed to be in place until the end of July. 12 May would represent three months since the last reported case of bird flu in Guangdong province, adjacent to Hong Kong. This is in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
WHO officials will be in Hong Kong and Guangdong to monitor the lifting of the ban and check Guangdong poultry farms for hygiene levels – the basic requirement now being that poultry farms be at least 3km from the nearest pig or other chicken farm. All Chinese chickens will be tested for H5 avian flu before being exported across the border.
In Hong Kong those poultry stalls still licensed will have to increase in size and use plastic sheeting to protect the public from animal droppings. The total amount of live chickens allowed in markets will be reduced from 240,000 to 100,000. The slaughtering, storage and sale of chickens will now have to take place in separate areas – again to enforce the separation of animals and humans.
Is it gone for good?
Meanwhile in mainland China the situation is a little less clear. The official Chinese media is trumpeting the apparent disappearance of bird flu. Chicken is back on the menu at most mainland Chinese restaurants and consumers are buying again. However, at least in some larger Shanghai markets, the sale of live chickens has ceased and those vendors that deep-fry chickens on the spot also have disappeared as has slaughtering of chickens on the spot.
Last year saw the double whammy of SARS and chicken flu – farmers, retailers, restaurateurs and consumers will all be hoping that both are gone for good. However, maintaining hygiene standards over the long term has traditionally been problematic in China and it would not be surprising if China’s markets and farms are not back to their normal state of affairs by the summer.
Paul French is the Shanghai-based Publishing & Marketing Director of research publisher and business information supplier Access Asia.
Click here to view Access Asia’s research reports.