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May 5, 2014

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Will live poultry freeze out the competition?

POULTRY producers are anxiously waiting to see how the lifting of a ban on live fowl sales in the city will affect their businesses.

For while the Shanghai government is promoting chilled and frozen poultry on disease control grounds, many locals traditionally buy live fowl.

Both sectors are closely following shopping trends to see which option locals choose.

Sales of live poultry resumed on May 1, after Shanghai authorities closed all live poultry markets from January 31 to April 30 in a bid to stop the spread of the H7N9 bird flu virus.

For Feng Shixiang, a live poultry seller in Shanghai from neighboring Jiangsu Province, the end of the ban couldn’t come soon enough, as he has tens of thousands of chickens to sell.

“My only hope now is that I don’t run a deficit, having not earned a penny due to the H7N9 bird flu virus,” he said.

But the resumption of live poultry sales has brought concerns for producers such as Chen Yinquan, board chairman of Wangyuan Farming Cooperative in suburban Fengxian District.

The cooperative was among the first businesses to switch to frozen poultry in response to the city government’s call.

With live poultry markets reopening, his business, which was showing signs of budding, could face a tough time.

“I don’t know whether consumers will abandon frozen chicken. All we can do is to wait and see,” Chen said.

“I will consider pulling out of the frozen poultry market if the trade volume shrinks by more than half,” Chen admitted.

Encourage new habits

Under the live poultry ban when H7N9 infection was likely to be at its peak, 119 retail trade spots and two live poultry wholesale markets were closed.

While the Shanghai Commerce Commission has now lifted the ban, the city said it will eventually eliminate live poultry sales.

To this end, authorities will continue supporting chilled and frozen poultry sales, encouraging new habits and promoting brand-building, it said.

Live markets also face more stringent inspections before reopening and must close one day a week to sterilize premises.

Jing’an District government said its only live poultry trading outlet will no longer sell live fowl.

This is bad news for live fowl producers such as Feng, who recently signed a 20-year lease on his poultry farm.

“I know my hopes are frail, but I have to open the farm to earn a living,” he said.

Live poultry is more popular due to traditional eating habits, Zhang Hua, deputy manager of the Hongkang wet market in Changning District, told Wenhui Daily.

Since the live trade resumed there have been long queues at live poultry trade counters, but none for frozen chicken anymore, Zhang said.

Zhang predicted that frozen and chilled poultry sales will fall by a third.

Before the bird flu outbreak, Shanghai Agricultural Products Wholesale Market sold up to 30,000 live fowl daily — a third of the total wholesale volume of live poultry in Shanghai.

On May 1 it sold 9,950 chickens and 2,150 pigeons.


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