Pig farmers and lawmakers have criticised Hong Kong's only private abattoir for suspending operations without good reason, as one politician urged the government to revoke its licence.
Helena Wong Pik-wan, a member of the Legislative Council's panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene, said on Sunday that the Tsuen Wan slaughterhouse had failed in its role as a backup to the government's facility in Sheung Shui, which was closed for a week after an outbreak of African swine fever in the city.
The private abattoir said last week it had been in the process of disinfecting its premises and remained close, despite local farms calling for it to reopen over fears they would be overwhelmed by the arrival of new animals.
On Saturday, the government said the slaughterhouse had finished cleaning up and could start offering fresh pork on Sunday, but later the slaughterhouse said it could not do so as it had not received any requests from clients for its services.
More than 6,500 pigs in the slaughterhouse in Sheung Shui were culled to prevent the spread of the virus, which was followed up by a disinfection operation. The facility, which supplies more than 80 per cent of the city's pork, was expected to reopen on Monday.
Lawmaker Steven Ho Chun-yin said licence holders had a responsibility to maintain normal operations at a slaughterhouse, unless there was sufficient reason for that to change.
"The regulations are rough," Ho said. "I think this reason can be accepted as the regulation requires, but whether people will believe it is another matter."
He also questioned the length of time the disinfection process at the Tsuen Wan slaughterhouse was taking.
"I could accept disinfection as a reason," said Lam Wing-yuen, the vice-chairman of Hong Kong Livestock Industry Association. "But the problem is they only gave the reason on the fifth day instead of the first day (when it was suspended)."
"The Tsuen Wan slaughterhouse failed to serve as a backup when the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse was closed down, nor it was able to only take the local pigs to avoid potential cross infections," Wong said. "I think the government should consider taking back its licence."
Local pig farmers have been asking for the separation of local pigs from mainland pigs to different slaughterhouses to avoid cross infections. But the suggestion is not considered feasible as slaughterhouse cannot cover their costs by only slaughtering local pigs.
Wong also urged the government to investigate the source of the infection and to strengthen the inspection of pigs shipped from mainland China to Hong Kong.
While lawmaker Ho agreed with the need for the government to improve inspections, he also pointed out the difficulty of removing all the pigs with the disease from the source, as the incubation period is at least 96 hours.
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