With just over 7 million residents crammed into its 1,100 sq km territory - Hong Kong boasts the fourth densest population in the world (after Macao, Monaco, and Singapore) - and must understandably import much of its raw food supply from outside.
While they have some local poultry producers, they are unable to keep up with the demand of a hungry and affluent international city like Hong Kong.Outbreaks of H7N9 in neighboring Guangdong Province - along with much of Eastern China - have forced Hong Kong officials to sharply curtail the number of poultry imported from the mainland and to impose stringent and very complex testing requirements (see chart below).
All of this has become a bit of a political football, as local residents still desire fresh, live chickens in their markets, mainland poultry producers want access to an affluent market, and public health officials worry over the introduction of avian influenza into a densely populated international city.
While HK has dealt with 21 imported cases of H7N9, a handful of H7 and H5 outbreaks in local poultry or in live markets over the years, and the occasional infected migratory bird flying in, they've gone 20 years since they've seen a locally acquired H5 or H7 flu case.
That's a winning streak no one wants to see broken.
For the past couple of years we've been hearing of plans to deal with this impasse, and today Hong Kong released a detailed Study on the Way Forward of Live Poultry Trade in Hong Kong and has announced a 60 day consultancy period for the public and other stakeholders to weigh in on the findings and recommendations.
April 03, 2017The Food & Health Bureau has launched a two-month public consultation on a consultant's recommendation the sale of live poultry at retail level be maintained and no ban be imposed on live poultry imports from the Mainland.
It launched the consultation today after announcing the findings and recommendations of the consultancy study on the future of Hong Kong's live poultry trade.
The study said Hong Kong's avian influenza measures are amongst the most comprehensive and stringent in the world and are effective in preventing human infection, noting no locally infected human case of H5 or H7 virus has occurred in Hong Kong since 1997.
The consultancy survey also revealed a significantly larger share of people favour live poultry over freshly slaughtered birds.
Though the views of experts on public and animal health are divided, local trade operators in general support maintaining the status quo in order to preserve local culinary culture and to minimise the impact on the trade, the bureau said.
After collating views from various stakeholders and studying safeguard measures, the bureau said the status quo for the poultry trade can be maintained and proposed some biosecurity improvements.
The measures include exploring the feasibility of introducing additional vaccinations against H7N9, strengthening presale tests on local chickens, relocating the wholesale poultry market, and enhancing the separation of humans and live poultry.
Click here for details.
From the Food & Health Bureau:
We commissioned a consultancy study to advise on the way forward for the live poultry trade, including whether to continue the sale of live poultry. Based on the study, the Consultant considers that the system of measures currently adopted in Hong Kong is generally amongst the most comprehensive and stringent in the world, and is effective in preventing human infection of Avian Influenza (AI). Having consolidated views from stakeholders and further studied, the Consultant suggests maintaining status quo of live poultry trade, i.e. continuing sale of live poultry at retail level and no need to ban importation of live poultry from the Mainland, and identifies a number of bio-security and safeguarding improvement measures along the supply chain for the Government’s consideration, including introducing additional vaccination against H7N9 AI virus, strengthening pre-scale AI Test at local farms, relocating the wholesale poultry market and enhancement of segregation of human and live poultry, etc.
Executive Summary of the Consultancy Report
Full Version of the Consultancy Report
Members of the public can send their views on the Consultancy Report on or before 3 June 2017, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), by post (Food Branch, Food and Health Bureau, 17/F, East Wing, Central Government Offices, 2 Tim Mei Avenue, Tamar, Hong Kong), or by facsimile (2102 2448). We will take into account the views received when finalising our decision on this matter.
Timing - they say - is everything.
While this detailed report was being prepared, China's waning winter H7N9 epidemic has gotten a new lease on life, and has broken all records since the first of the year.
Not only has a new lineage of LPAI H7N9 emerged, so has an HPAI version (see MMWR:Increase in Human Infections with Avian Influenza A(H7N9) In China's 5th Wave).
As we saw last week in Eurosurveillance: Preliminary Epidemiology & Analysis Of Jiangsu's 5th H7N9 Wave, there are now concerns over suspected increased virulence of this new LPAI lineage, and the possibility that it may be more `heat tolerant' and able to spread during warmer months.
Exactly how the recent emergence of an HPAI strain of H7N9 will play out is anyone's guess, and recent history has shown that new subtypes could emerge at anytime.
All of which means that whatever path Hong Kong approves may need adjustments, as the increasingly complex array of avian flu viruses on the Mainland toss new, unforeseen challenges into the mix.