The government said yesterday it would investigate whether to open up to competition the supply of fresh beef from the mainland to slow soaring prices.
The sole distributor for mainland beef - Ng Fung Hong - has raised wholesale prices by more than 30 per cent this year, increasing market prices to almost HK$100 a catty (604 grams). Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the government had met Ng Fung Hong representatives, as well as merchants, and would look into the reasons for the price surge.
"Some say we have only one distributor so there is no competition. But others say the supplies cannot keep up with demand on the mainland [and in Hong Kong]," said Ko.
"We will find out how the cattle supply chain on the mainland works and how elastic the market is to see whether introducing competition at the wholesale level would increase the supply and lower the prices."
A Food and Health Bureau spokesman said the survey would compare the price, quality and costs of fresh beef in the city and nearby mainland cities.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the high prices might be connected to the monopoly.
"We'll look into the issue. This is something we can handle by ourselves and we need not rely on the central government to solve the problem," he said in response to an elderly caller's complaint during a radio programme.
Beef merchants urged the government to open the wholesale market to allow competition.
"[Ng Fung Hong] is the only supplier in the city, and when it says the supply is tight, it raises the price," said Chung Siu-kai of the Hong Kong Beef and Mutton Merchants' Association.
Ng Fung Hong could not be reached for comment yesterday.