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Development of poultry slaughtering centre shelved

     The Government announced today (June 1) that it would shelve the development of a poultry slaughtering centre (PSC) at this stage.

     At a press conference held today, the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, said: "The Government has made this decision mainly because our latest scientific assessment confirmed that the risk of avian influenza in Hong Kong at present is very low. This is the outcome of the biosecurity measures and preventive and control measures against avian influenza implemented at the poultry farm, wholesale, retail and import levels over the years. There is therefore at present no need to develop a PSC in Hong Kong.

     "The decision to shelve the development of a PSC is based on science, with the health of the public as an overriding concern," he said.

     Earlier on, the Government conducted a scientific assessment to evaluate the risk of human infection by avian influenza viruses associated with the live poultry trade in Hong Kong, and consulted the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases on the results of the assessment. The committee, chaired by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and comprising doctors, veterinarians, microbiologists and other experts, agreed that the risk of avian influenza to Hong Kong had been significantly reduced in recent years and confirmed the efficacy of the control and surveillance measures at all levels.  

     Furthermore, according to the on-going surveillance conducted in retail outlets by the University of Hong Kong, the isolation rate of H9N2 viruses, which is a good indicator of the loading of avian influenza virus in the poultry population, has significantly dropped from 5.11% before the ban on the keeping of live poultry overnight in retail markets and introduction of the buyout scheme for the live poultry trade in 2008 to 0.09% recently. This shows that the risk of avian influenza at the retail level has been successfully controlled at an extremely low level.

     Since Hong Kong became the first place in the world to have identified human infection by avian influenza in 1997, a number of preventive and control measures have been implemented at various levels of the live poultry supply chain, including local poultry farms, the wholesale market, retail outlets and at the import level, to control the risk of avian influenza.

     Live chicken consumption in Hong Kong has declined from a daily average of 92,000 chickens in 2003 to only 16,500 in 2009. The reduction in the number of retail outlets, wholesalers and poultry farms and in rearing capacity has greatly contributed to containing the chicken population and chicken supply in Hong Kong at a steady level, thus minimising the chance of human contact with live chickens.

     "In recent years, consumers have demonstrated a preference for frozen and chilled chickens. If this trend is to continue, the demand for live chickens will remain steady or even decrease. This will further reduce the need to develop a poultry slaughtering centre. In fact, we have conducted a commercial viability study which concluded that it is not commercially viable to run a poultry slaughtering centre in Hong Kong," Dr Chow said.

    With the advancement in the technology for producing chilled food products in recent years, the texture and taste of chilled chickens has become increasingly close to those of live chickens.  There has been a significant rise in the market share of chilled and frozen chickens over the past few years. Last year, the market share of live chickens was 6%, whereas the share of chilled and frozen chickens was 30% and 64% respectively.

     Dr Chow reiterated that the Government would maintain its efforts in controlling the risk of avian influenza.

     "The policy on banning the overnight stocking of live poultry at the retail level will remain unchanged. We will keep the numbers and rearing capacity of local chicken farms, the number of live poultry retail outlets and the daily quantity of imported chickens unchanged.

     "We will also strengthen our surveillance at the farm, wholesale, retail and import levels, and regularly review the risk of avian influenza to Hong Kong, with a view to ensuring that our policies are formulated in light of the prevailing circumstances," he added.

Ends/Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Issued at HKT 18:28


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