Fresh beef supplies cut off in row between dealers and importer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2007, 12:00am

Supplies of fresh beef have been cut off in Hong Kong in a row between dealers and Ng Fung Hong, the sole supplier of cattle from the mainland.

Dealers will suspend operations at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse today for at least three days over what they see as a price rise coupled with a supply shortage.

'Ng Fung Hong has raised the price in the past two weeks, but its cattle supply has been short and of mixed quality,' said Chung Siu-kai, a director of the Hong Kong Beef and Mutton Merchants' Association.

The dealers are the only link between fresh beef vendors and Ng Fung Hong, which has a monopoly on live mainland cattle imports. More than 20 of them gathered at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse yesterday to express their anger and urge the government to break Ng Fung Hong's monopoly.

'If Ng Fung Hong fails at the job, we hope the government will liberalise the market and let whoever can supply quality goods do it,' Mr Chung said.

The dealers said daily cattle supplies had fallen from 130 to fewer than 90 in recent months. They said they had almost run out of livestock.

But last night a Food and Health Bureau spokesman said the supply of live cattle in the past two days was not far below normal. He suggested dealers refrain from radical action.

Fresh beef accounts for about 20 per cent of the city's market.

The dealers said they would stockpile livestock for three days and may restore the supply link on Wednesday if enough cattle had been accumulated.

The lack of fresh beef may continue for a week, Man Cheuk-pui, chairman of the Fresh Meat Alliance, said.

Ng Fung Hong, whose monopoly on live pig imports was broken last month, raised the wholesale price of live cattle about two weeks ago, pushing the market price of fresh beef up from HK$36 a catty (600 grams) to about HK$40.