Friday, June 14, 2013

The Chicken Protest

Chicken farmers and vendors all over Taiwan went to the Council of Agriculture and then took to the streets yesterday to protest the government's policy to require all chickens to be electronically slaughtered in licensed slaughter houses.  

I had some time after a lunch meeting, so I went to see the protest and found thousands of angry chicken vendors with loud air horns in front of the Council of Agriculture.

Angry bird
The Council of Agriculture decided to implement the policy after the H7N9 outbreak in China and then activated an immediate ban after a case of H7N9 was discovered in Taiwan.  There hasn't been any other case of H7N9 in Taiwan, and the man who caught the virus while in China has since recovered and released from the National Taiwan University hospital.

Most of the vendors and farmers I spoke to at the protest complained of a 30-50% plunge in chicken sell since April.  Most also complained they have yet to receive any subsidy from government.  According to the government, of the 1,051 registered live poultry vendors, 805 had applied for the NT$100,000 subsidy.  From my conversation with some of the chicken vendors, I doubt all of them are registered live poultry vendors and know how to file for subsidy.  Some vendors said their businesses are small stands in traditional markets, and they get their chickens from chicken farmers.  A vendor said, on average, he sells 15 to 20 chickens a day.  He simply cannot afford to bring his chickens to an electronic slaughter house miles away to have the slaughterhouse kill and pack the chickens and have the time to rush back to his stand to sell his chickens to the housewives who often shop for their groceries in the morning.  

Moreover, most slaughterhouses are overbooked with chicken vendors lining outside with their trucks of chickens.  Prior to Dragon Boast Festival (June 12th), which is a holiday where most Taiwanese families have their bai bai (prayer with offerings to gods, and chicken is one of the main offerings), some chicken vendors waited more than 12 hours to have their chickens slaughtered.  

Vendor from Chungli
Another source of the chicken vendors discontent is cultural, which I completely missed until they mentioned it to me.  A chicken vendor from Chungli (中壢) reminded me the chickens offered to the gods had to be whole chickens.  The chickens that came out of the electronic slaughterhouses were all missing combs, spurs, some toes and some of their beaks were broken.  

"Our consumers won't buy chickens like this for bai bai.  It's considered disrespectful to the gods if you offer them broken or incomplete offerings," he said.  

They also told me there were many breeds of indigenous chickens (土雞) and pseudo-indigenous chickens (仿土雞), all require different methods of care taking and foods and preparation, which can be costly if somehow the chicken dies while waiting to be slaughtered.

"No one is listening to us," a chicken vendor in Pingtung who thought I was reporter and came rushing over, "Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) said the slaughterhouses are enough.  That's all lies.  He doesn't even know how we work and live".

He then asked me, "Do you work for the Liberty Times?"  Not sure why, but I was asked by different protesters at different point whether I work for the Liberty Times.  It is true at most protests I observed, protesters often assume I am a reporter.

Different Protest

A teary vendor
I have been observing so many young people and student-led protests in the past months that I became used to the style and sounds of those protests instead of the more "traditional" ones.  

If I didn't know where the Council of Agriculture is, it would not be difficult to find it yesterday.  One can just follow the loud sound of the air-horns.  Imagine thousands of them all blowing at one time.  Combined with the loud speeches and screaming from those who were on stage, the sound was powerful enough to make me temporarily deaf.  

There were also countless betel nut chewing and chain-smoking participants.  At one point, I saw a betel nut girl with a plastic bag full of betel nuts moving through the crowd, offering her product.  The smoke from the cigarettes made it difficult to breathe for me sometimes, so I had to move from one place to another to avoid inhaling the smoke.  It was also difficult to not step on the chewed up betel nut and juice on the ground.  

This is something one doesn't see at the student protests.  Moreover, the young people actually had designated members who pick up trash and return everything back to where it was after the protest.  For example, within 15 minutes after the students threw ghost money at the Executive Yuan to protest the demolition and eviction of the Huaguang Community, the students have picked up all the ghost money and put them inside of trash bags.  I observed the same thing at Anti-Media Monopoly protests as well.  

The protest began hurling eggs at the Council of Agriculture after rappers Kou Chou Chin (拷秋勤) began to rap and sing.  With all the protesters shifting their attention toward the Council of Agriculture building, and some even started tossing full water bottles at the building, Kou Chou Chin had to stop rapping and urged the protesters to remain calm and focus on enjoying their songs instead.

Some protesters told the reporters and I to back up, because they wanted to remove the police barricade.  Soon, quite a few protesters grabbed a hold of the barricade and began shaking and pulling at it with no avail.  The police barricades were effectively secured.  
I then observed student volunteers coming and standing in front of the barricade with their hands up, urging the protesters to back up and to stay calm and also asking them to not throw anything at the police or at the building.  

I left as the protesters started moving toward the Ketagalan Boulevard for further protest and sit-in.  By that time, I had developed a splitting headache.  

The Taipei Times reports, "Council of Agriculture Deputy Minister Wang Cheng-ten (王政騰) met with 10 representatives from the protesters, but two sides were not able to teach an agreement.  After the meeting, the demonstrators marched to the Presidential Office for another protest".


David said...

Your words and photos bring the event to life. It's almost like being there. Thanks.

Ketty W. Chen said...

Thanks very much, David. It was definitely an interesting event to see.