Meat retailers have called on the government to break Ng Fung Hong's monopoly of wholesale beef, as they expect a quarter of the 500 players in the business to go bust after the Lunar New Year as a result of rising prices.
Ng Fung Hong, the sole mainland beef distributor, announced six rounds of price increases last year. It raised the wholesale price of beef per kilogram by HK$4.30 to HK$67.90 for regular beef, and by HK$3.80 to HK$71.30 for premium beef from December 22.
The latest increase pushed up the retail price of beef to more than HK$100 per catty (604 grams).
"This makes it extremely difficult for traders, while residents have to pay more," Fresh Beef Traders Alliance's spokesman Hui Wai-kin said yesterday.
According to the alliance, the wholesale price has risen 40 per cent from July to December, making beef much pricier in Hong Kong than in Shenzhen. In October, Hongkongers paid 30 per cent more for beef brisket.
"Housewives are now buying less beef," lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing said. "Beef, a daily food item, has become a luxury."
In November, Wong met Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man, who said the government would look into whether to open up to competition the supply of fresh beef from the mainland to slow soaring prices.
But that did not stop Ng Fung Hong from announcing last year's sixth round of increases just five days after Ko's remarks. "The government is not doing its job seriously," Wong said.
He wanted authorities across the border to look into the issue as well, given that the monopoly was endorsed by both the Hong Kong government and the mainland's Ministry of Commerce.
He called on the newly elected local delegates to the National People's Congress to take up the matter with Beijing.
Meanwhile, the alliance wants authorities to find out the reason behind a drop in the number of mainland farms supplying beef to Hong Kong. Records show the number of suppliers halved from 70 in 2007 to 35 last year.