SHANGHAI - With no new confirmed cases of the H7N9 virus on the Chinese mainland for more than a week, Shanghai is planning to allow cold-processed poultry meat onto the market by the end of May, giving the heavily hit poultry industry a chance at recovery.
In a meeting organised by the city's agriculture authority on Thursday, most participants suggested that live poultry markets would eventually be shut down. They said cold-processed poultry products would be promoted to gradually replace live poultry starting at the end of this month, according to the Shanghai Municipal Agriculture Commission.
Cold-processed poultry refers to meat products cooled to between zero C and 4 C within an hour after slaughter and kept at the same temperature during processing, before being sold to the customer.
"The taste of cold-processed meat is very similar to just-slaughtered live poultry," said Meng He, a professor of animal science at the School of Agriculture and Biology, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
"Buying cold-processed poultry meat will be the most appropriate way to eat safety-guaranteed products without being afraid of catching any virus from live poultry," Meng said.
Most Chinese believe live poultry tastes better and is more nutritious.
At the moment, most poultry product suppliers that used to receive regular orders for cold-processed poultry meat are waiting for the quick recovery of the market to see if poultry-related products will be widely sold again.
"Normally, 10,000 cold-processed chickens were sold daily before the bird flu outbreak, and now we only sell about 1,000 to 1,500 a day," said Zhou Xianbin, a deputy general manager of Shanghai Shenghua Food Co, a leading poultry product supplier in Shanghai.
Zhou added that his company is looking forward to the growth of orders for cold-processed poultry meat if the municipal government promotes those products.
The outbreak of the H7N9 virus brought the industry to a standstill, turning most consumers away from poultry-related products.
According to the China Animal Agriculture Association, the country's poultry industry has suffered more than 40 billion yuan ($6.52 billion) in losses since the virus appeared in March.
Since late March, authorities have closed many poultry markets in eastern China to contain the spread of the H7N9 virus.
"I've lost more than 15 million yuan in sales during March and April, and I was forced to slaughter and freeze hundreds of mature roosters, which hopefully will be sold in two or three months to minimize my losses," said Ye Enlin, managing director of the Wenzhou Minxin poultry cooperative in Tengqiao village, Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, an area well-known for smoked chicken products.
In fact, official statistics show that the poultry industry has been slowly recovering with the issuance of government subsidies in April.
The per-kilo price of dressed chicken hit 13.51 yuan on May 15, up from an annual low of 12.97 yuan on May 12. But that figure was still 4.2 per cent lower than the same time last year, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Transactions in the poultry sector from May 6 to May 12 increased by 25.6 per cent from the equivalent period in April, but were still down 67.2 per cent year-on-year, the data showed.
But to small poultry breeders, the light of hope seems faint.
"I've heard the price of chicken is increasing while we haven't benefited at all because our direct buyers, the live poultry trading markets, are still shut down," Ye said.