Chicken farmers have voiced opposition to a government ban on slaughtering chickens due to start in June, doubting its effectiveness and worrying about potential side effects to their livelihoods.
Facing the threat posed by the outbreak of the H7N9 avian influenza virus in China, the Council of Agriculture announced on Tuesday that, starting on June 17, the slaughter of chickens in markets would be completely banned, and chicken slaughter could only be done in certified slaughterhouses with electric equipment.
The news came as a shock to many chicken farmers across the country.
“Electric slaughtering will not solve the problem, it’s only going to bring up more problems,” said Yao Liang-yi (姚量議), a chicken farmer in Changhua County.
“Government officials may think that reducing direct contact between humans and chickens may help to prevent the spread of diseases, but it doesn’t make sense at all,” Yao said. “In the city, you may be able to prevent direct contact between consumers and live chickens by banning chicken slaughtering in markets, but in the countryside, chicken farms are located right in the middle of villages. Contact is inevitable.”
In addition, Yao said that no matter how the policy of chicken slaughter was changed, there would always be people who have to handle the chickens, there would always be people who move the chickens from farms to slaughterhouses, people who actually slaughter the chickens and people who deliver the chickens from slaughterhouses to the market.
“If humans can be infected and carry and spread the disease, banning chicken slaughter in markets would not help prevent the spread of the disease,” he said.
Jenny Chen (陳寧), a researcher of the chicken farming industry, said that making electric slaughtering mandatory could completely change the industry.
“At the moment, the chicken supply chain consists of chicken farmers, wholesalers and retailers. Chicken farmers can sell live chickens to wholesalers and retailers may purchase live chickens from wholesalers, but when electric slaughtering becomes mandatory, farmers would be forced to sell chickens to slaughterhouses, while retailers would have to buy from slaughterhouses,” Chen said.
“The problem occurs here: It would cost more than NT$10 million [US$335,800] to establish a slaughterhouse with electric slaughtering equipment, hence chicken trading becomes a game for the rich and the corporates,” Chen added.
Without wholesalers, independent chicken farmers would either have to close their farms, or become “slaves” of corporate-owned slaughterhouses, because it would be the slaughterhouses that would decide the price, Chen said.
Yao agreed with Chen, saying that the policy may result in industrialized chicken farming.
“Right now, chicken farms usually have different types of chickens, with different sizes, but assembly-line electric slaughtering would only work for ‘standardized’ chickens,” he said. “That means that the slaughterhouses may require chicken farmers to raise a certain type of chickens and feed them a certain type of food.”
In his experience, Yao said, a “standardized” and “controlled” environment is a hotbed for viruses and bacteria.
“To maintain our farms in such an environment, we farmers may need to give more medicine to the chickens, and it wouldn’t be healthy for the chickens or the consumers,” he said.
Other chicken farmers have different worries.
A chicken farmer surnamed Chang (張) also believed that the ban would only make things worse.
“The government could actually make it safe for consumers under the current system, because all the chickens would be assembled at wholesale markets before being sold to individual retailers, which is where the veterinarians may inspect the chickens,” Chang said. “But in the future, how could you be sure that each chicken that comes out from a certified slaughterhouse is without problem?”
He said that since electric slaughtering would cost more, slaughterhouses may handle chickens in unconventional ways to cut costs, yet still sell the chickens to the markets as certified products.
“I’ve heard some slaughterhouses are doing so already — some farmers would sell their sick chickens to electric slaughterhouses because you can’t tell by the appearance whether the chickens you’re buying are safe if they’ve already been slaughtered and well packed,” Chang said. “But you can tell if a chicken is healthy if it’s alive in the market, and in fact, we would always pick the healthiest chickens to be sold live in markets.”