Will we be too chicken to say No?

Editorial | 6 Apr 2017

It's often claimed that where there's a will, there's a way.

So, it has always been possible for the administration to get what it wants with its support from the pro- establishment camp assured in the Legislative Council, where filibustering couldn't block additional funding for the Express Rail Link, and a debate on the Wang Chau housing controversy was nipped in the bud.

But the government seems to be so impotent on the question of chickens that it never ceases to amaze.

The issue of live poultry sales has always been about politics and science. Apparently, officials are about to opt for politics in view of the report prepared by a government consultant after two years of study. Included is a survey of 1,000 people and a review of the current system segregating live poultry from consumers. This despite a scientific case that's simple to understand.

Although Hong Kong has spent a fortune beefing up biosecurity measures at local farms and the border in a bid to keep us safe, it hasn't prevented avian flu outbreaks in the mainland, where the SAR gets most of its chickens from.

There are bird flu outbreaks every year, causing deaths on both sides of the border. In the five months from October to February, at least 364 mainlanders were infected with bird flu in various provinces, including Guangdong.

The death rate has been high - about 40 percent. In the same period, five Hong Kong residents came home with bird flu and some of them died.

I don't doubt the consultant's observation that the safety measures in Hong Kong are extremely stringent. Otherwise, there would have been outbreaks of similar gravity here. The safety we have today, however, comes at a cost.

First, it has to do with the human casualties over the years.

Second, millions of dollars are paid each year to keep the system intact. According to the consultant, it costs taxpayers HK$8 for every kilogram of live chicken sold. The cost will get more expensive if the safety facilities already in place are to be further strengthened.

Can the money be saved for another purpose if we can have a simpler, safer alternative?

The consultant has accurately pointed out many people still prefer dishes made from freshly slaughtered chicken, as nearly half of those surveyed agreed. But this figure doesn't seem overwhelming - considering that more than 30 percent said it doesn't matter to them.

However, there would be many howls of protest if the sale of live chickens was prohibited.

It's all about political will.

In Macau, the government hasn't officially banned sale of live chicken, but local markets have been bereft of the live poultry since Lunar New Year, following a few bird flu incidents.

Macau's approach is rather simple - it's not going to resume imports from the mainland. Problem solved.

Now Macau residents may cry "fowl play," but the government there believes this is the best way to preempt the health threat.

The matter of chicken importance is all about political will.

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