Live bird markets are coming back in China by popular demand after coronavirus outbreak

A customer buys pork meat at a market in Shenyang in China's northeastern Liaoning province, on April 17, 2020.
A customer buys pork meat at a market in Shenyang in China's northeastern Liaoning province, on April 17, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China is reopening some live bird markets in the south of the country because that's the way the locals like their fowl - freshly killed.

"We only buy chicken slaughtered in the markets to ensure that the meat is fresh, and it's more delicious than the chilled variety sold in supermarkets," said Rosie Luo, a student from Foshan city, Guangdong province.

While live animal markets are suspected of being the source of the novel coronavirus and some other diseases, the authorities had no choice but to let them reopen because some people won't buy their meat anywhere else.

And that's important in a year when people need a cheap alternative to pork, which is in short supply because of virus lockdowns and African swine fever.

Poultry consumption in its various forms is rebounding as the country recovers from the coronavirus outbreak. That's partly down to a plunge in pork output, which fell almost 30 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, as swine fever cut herds and the lockdowns disrupted transport and labour.

Worsening pork shortages should push up demand for chicken as sales of fast food, such as burgers, delivered to people's homes and of chilled meat in supermarkets are seen rising, according to Kong Pingtao, general manager at agriculture industry portal www.boyar.cn.

LIVE FOWL PREFERRED

Poultry producers are responding. Wens Foodstuffs Group Co, the country's largest breeder, said chicken sales rose 18 per cent in March from a year earlier as consumption recovered from the coronavirus. Sales of baby chicks by Shandong Yisheng Livestock and Poultry Breeding were up almost 30 per cent. That will help boost demand for soybean meal and corn used in animal feed.

Back in the live bird markets, the agriculture ministry asked some provinces last month to reopen them gradually to help poultry production recover. Eight provinces, including Guangdong, the top chicken consuming area, have done so, though most are still closed, according to an industry survey.

 
 
 
 

A live bird wholesale market in the city of Dongguan, Guangdong province, resumed business last month because the locals prefer live fowl instead of chilled meat, said an official reached by phone, without giving his name. Still, some local governments, including Fujian, Guizhou and Chongqing, have shuttered their markets indefinitely, according to local media reports.

"Most live bird markets will eventually disappear, but it will be difficult to shut down all the markets across the country," said Pan Chenjun, a senior livestock analyst with Rabobank. "In some rural areas where consumers have a strong preference for live birds, I would assume they might exist for a longer time."

Another obstacle to the demise of live markets are the differing sizes of yellow-feathered chickens that are bred mainly in the southern provinces, which would present a challenge for modern slaughterhouses, said Pan.

The yellow birds are a favourite with people living south of the Yangtze River, according to Kong from the industry portal. They are used for soup, and well-known dishes, such as Baizhan chicken, where the meat is poached and served cold, and Yanju chicken, baked in salt.