Beef dealers sit and wait as standoff with supplier continues

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2007, 12:00am

Supplies of fresh beef in the city have become scarce with many shops closed as the row between dealers and Ng Fung Hong, the sole supplier of cattle from the mainland, shows no sign of being resolved.

The three-day boycott of Ng Fung Hong beef entered a second day yesterday with no indication that a deal could be reached between the two parties.

'We also feel very helpless. We want to carry on our business but Ng Fung Hong simply ignores us like we do not exist at all,' Chung Siu-kai, a director of the Hong Kong Beef and Mutton Merchants' Association said.

Beef dealers suspended operations at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse on Sunday to protest against price rises and a supply shortage.

'We will go to the slaughterhouse on Tuesday morning to see whether the supply is enough before deciding our next move,' Mr Chung said.

Ng Fung Hong could not be reached for comment despite repeated efforts, while the government said it would monitor the situation and urged the two parties to consider the interests of the public.

Many beef stalls across the city were closed yesterday.

In Kowloon City Market, two beef vendors have been closed since Sunday while none of the other 14 fresh meat stalls sold any beef.

'I feel very helpless,' said a beef vendor who gave his name as Szeto, as he sat at his empty stall. 'Small vendors like me can do nothing to resist the decisions of Ng Fung Hong.'

Ng Kwong-kai, another vendor with no beef to sell, said: 'All our beef was sold the night before yesterday.'

Some customers turned to pork or mutton instead.

But pork vendor Wong Kwok-han said the beef shortage had not substantially boosted her sales. 'Pork sales have improved a bit,' Mrs Wong said. 'But not by much, since beef was never that popular anyway.'

Most customers agreed Ng Fung Hong's monopoly should be ended.

'The monopoly is bad. There should be more suppliers to allow more varieties. It would be better for the customers', said Daisy Lee, a shopper at the market.

Another customer, who gave her name as Mrs Zhong, said: 'With monopoly, you will naturally have problems with prices.'

Ng Fung Hong lost its monopoly on handling live pig imports last month after pork traders protested against its price rises. The price of wholesale pork has risen by more than 60 per cent since October last year - from HK$800 for 60kg to HK$1,300.

Pork vendor Mrs Wong said the prices increased gradually, with the biggest rise in May and July.

'Lean pork cost HK$28 a catty [around 600 grams] last year. Now it is HK$32,' she said.