Black market in fresh chicken thriving

Chickens are seen at a market in Foshan, Guangdong province, China.
Chickens are seen at a market in Foshan, Guangdong province, China. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • The deadly H7N9 bird flu outbreak has led to a five-year live poultry ban in the Chinese city of Guangzhou since 2015, but that has not stopped consumers who will only have freshly slaughtered chicken on the dinner table.

Housewife Zhang Yi is one of them. Once a week, she combs the narrow alleys near a wet market, looking for freshly killed chicken on the black market, the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong reported.

A sign that she looks for: a temporary boiler set up on a quiet side street.

"These mobile vendors are always on the move. They don't stay in the same spot to avoid being caught," Madam Zhang told the Post, adding that some vendors sell their chickens from a van so that they can make a quick getaway should inspectors turn up.

Under the five-year ban, wet market vendors are only allowed to sell chilled chickens killed at a central slaughterhouse.

Live poultry sales have also been suspended in Guangzhou, Xiamen, Suzhou, several cities in Hunan and Sichuan, and the whole of Zhejiang province, Xinhua news agency reported.

Under the five-year ban, wet market vendors are only allowed to sell chilled chickens killed at a central slaughterhouse... Live poultry sales have also been suspended in Guangzhou, Xiamen, Suzhou, several cities in Hunan and Sichuan, and the whole of Zhejiang province.

Last Wednesday, Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, joined others across China in banning live poultry sales.

Market closures are the most effective way of stemming the spread of the H7N9 virus, said the Nanchang Municipal Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Xinhua reported.

The death toll so far this winter has hit at least 108, Reuters has reported, quoting the Chinese government.

The numbers were probably partly caused by greater human exposure to infected poultry before and during the Chinese New Year festive season, said analysts, as more people shopped for live poultry, according to the South China Morning Post.

Despite the live poultry ban, the fresh chicken black market is well and alive in Guangzhou. Freshly slaughtered chickens are not only considered fresher, they are cheaper, too. Customers who are prepared to take the risk pay about 60 yuan (S$12) per kg for the illegal chicken, said the Post. In contrast, the best chilled chicken processed by a slaughterhouse at the Wancongyuan wet market goes for at least 80 yuan.

Madam Zhang said she knows that buying freshly slaughtered chicken from the black market will expose her to health risks, but she tries to minimise her chances of contracting the virus by not touching the bird.

"We usually just point at the chicken we want and come back for it after the vendor was done processing it," she told the Post. "It's okay as long as we don't touch it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'Black market in fresh chicken thriving'. Print Edition | Subscribe