HK's Fresh Retail Chicken Shops May Make Comeback

HONG KONG - Chicken rules the roost when it comes to Cantonese cuisine, and the fresher the better. But past government efforts to discourage retail sales of live chickens had almost put the once ubiquitous chicken shop on the endangered list.
calendar icon 25 April 2017
clock icon 3 minute read

In the not so distant past, people in Hong Kong would visit their neighborhood chicken shop -- easily identified by the cages of squawking chickens out front -- where they had the butcher 'process' their chosen bird on the spot.

"Live poultry is much tastier than frozen meat, especially when steamed," says a local woman in her 60s, presumably reflecting the sentiments of the territory's residents, who like their chicken steamed, boiled or as a base for soups.

But having so many live chickens around increases the possibility of an avian flu epidemic, which can be devastating to both birds and people. Since the late 1990s, with each outbreak of the bird-born disease that resulted in human deaths, government officials have ordered the wholesale slaughter of chicken stocks.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that because of this, the government had stepped up measures over the years to restrict the live poultry business, including encouraging poultry farms and chicken retailers to relinquish their live poultry licenses. At the same time, safety measures, such as vaccinations and inspections, were implemented to halt the spread of the disease at production and distribution centers.

As a result, there have been no recent outbreaks of bird flu in the territories, prompting the Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau earlier this month to change its stance and let the live poultry trade flourish again.

Meanwhile, the number of chicken retailers -- once numbering more than 800 shops -- has fallen to about 130 as of the end of 2016, putting a premium on live poultry, which has been trading at the high range of 200 Hong Kong dollars ($25.72) per chicken. This price surge has forced Hong Kong shoppers to turn to cheaper frozen birds available in supermarkets.

But with the government's new recommendations, there may soon come a time when Hong Kong's chicken lovers can buy their birds fresh without putting a dent in their wallets.

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