Room for cuts in pork prices, says watchdog

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 January, 2009, 12:00am

Consumer body finds savings not being passed on to shoppers

The Consumer Council says retailers of fresh pork have room to cut prices because the gap between wholesale and retail levels has widened by almost two-thirds.

Yesterday, the council released figures for the price changes in fresh meats over the past 23 months.

They revealed that the wholesale price for fresh pork was HK$9.20 per catty on average in January 2007 and it increased to HK$10.80 in November. The price hit a high of HK$15 in March last year.

Meanwhile, the retail price for pork was HK$24.80 per catty on average in January 2007, and rose to HK$36.10 in November. Its high was HK$40.20 last June.

The price gap between wholesale and retail levels widened from HK$15.60 per catty to HK$25.30, or 62 per cent, over the period of the survey.

The council said both wholesale and retail prices for pork had dropped in recent months, but inconsistently. The wholesale price has fallen 28 per cent, or HK$4.20, from the highest since last March. The retail price has dropped only 10 per cent, or HK$4.10, since June.

'The discrepancy indicated that the retail price has not been adjusted downward at a pace in keeping with the wholesale price,' said Ron Hui Shu-yuen, the council's vicechairman of publicity and community relations. 'Clearly there is room for reduction in the retail price of fresh pork.'

Professor Hui called on traders to pass lower prices on to consumers. He said the council was not in a position to comment on the reasons for the widening price gap because they were not studied.

The council said the average wholesale price of live cattle was HK$23.40 per catty in November, meaning an increase of HK$10.20 over the surveyed period. However, over the same period the average retail price of fresh beef increased HK$23.20 per catty to HK$58.90.

The gap between wholesale and retail prices for fresh beef has widened from HK$22.50 to HK$35.50.

Professor Hui said transparency of the market price and the supply could put pressure on prices. 'Consumers still have choices, such as frozen meats,' he said.

The council said in August that bidding practices at live pig auctions might increase the price of fresh pork. The government said in November that it had approached meat retailers to find reasons for the price increase.

But a spokesman for the Food and Health Bureau said the market should decide the price of fresh pork, and the government had tried to increase the transparency of prices and supply.

The spokesman said 3,944 pigs were at sold at market yesterday and 4,500 would be available today.

Pork Traders' General Association vice-president Hui Wai-ki said the retailers' operational costs, such as rent, petrol and transport, had risen more than 10 per cent compared with early 2007, meaning there was no room for a price cut soon.