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Hong Kong's chicken killers haunted by guilt

Mass slaughter helps eliminate 'bird flu'

chicken February 6, 1998
Web posted at: 4:50 p.m. EST (2150 GMT)
In this story:

HONG KONG (CNN) -- Hong Kong's six-week ban on chickens ends Saturday but the ghosts of more than 1 million fowl slaughtered to prevent a return of the deadly "bird flu" virus is haunting those who carried out the mass killings.

About 38,000 live chickens are set to enter from China after the easing of the health crisis and fears of a global epidemic.

The ban on fresh chicken imports was slapped on Hong Kong after the discovery of the H5N1 flu virus for the first time in humans last year sparked a global panic.

The "bird flu" has been linked to the deaths of six people including two children, and a dozen others have been infected.

Workers who killed the chickens in Hong Kong suffer psychological problems
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But with no fresh cases reported since the slaughter of 1.4 million fowl here in December, the government has decided it is safe to resume imports from the mainland.

But local poultry farmers are unable to resume breeding chickens within Hong Kong itself because the region's government says their farms are too dirty and risk starting the deadly disease again.

Chicken killers left with emotional scars

Much of the mass slaughter was carried out by workers from Hong Kong's Agriculture and Fisheries Department. They were ordered to drop their normal tasks to help stop the spread of the "bird flu," yet almost none had ever killed a chicken before.

Workers told CNN what they did more than a month ago has left lasting emotional scars. Here's what some of them said:

  • "I was willing to do it for the public good, but I certainly didn't want to. There were some workers who were religious who wouldn't actually kill the chickens, but simply picked up the carcasses afterwards." slaughtered chickens
  • "Of course it had a psychological effect. We'd killed a chicken once or twice for dinner. But in one night, we killed tens of thousands. It was terrifying."
  • "When I went to bed and closed my eyes, I could still hear the chickens screaming. I felt terrible. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Those chickens were innocent. It was a slaughter."
  • "Maybe I killed too many. Since that time, I haven't been able to eat chicken. Not even a bite."

The Hong Kong government offered the workers psychological counseling. None accepted.

New health rules in place

The 38,000 chickens that arrive on Saturday from China will go on sale Sunday at the sprawling Cheung Sha Wan poultry market. It has been thoroughly sterilized and new cage hygiene standards have been forced upon traders, including new steel and plastic cages instead of wooden ones.

Dozens of other new virus-combating rules are in place. They include licensing Chinese chicken farms that export to Hong Kong; quarantines; and labeling all chickens from Hong Kong farms -- in order to trace diseased birds.

Before the ban, Hong Kong imported about 80,000 birds daily from China, 80 percent of its daily consumption. The rest was supplied by local farms.

Hong Kong Bureau Chief Mike Chinoy contributed to this report.

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