An investigation into the supply of meat from the mainland is under way in an attempt to break a monopoly on wholesale beef, with a result expected in three months, the health minister said yesterday.
The investigation aims to find ways to boost competition among suppliers as rising prices of fresh beef drive away customers and hurt traders.
"In a free market, where there is competition, when other factors remain unchanged, there should normally be a chance to push market prices down," Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said.
"But we are concerned about whether this can be achieved, since the cattle industry on the mainland is struggling to stay afloat."
Ko said it was becoming harder to draw newcomers to the industry on the mainland, while land suitable for raising cattle was not easy to find - with the exception of the northern part of the country, which posed transport difficulties.
Ko's announcement comes after Ng Fung Hong, the sole mainland beef distributor, raised the retail price of beef to more than HK$100 per catty (600 grams) last month, the sixth price increase in 2012.
Meat retailers said the wholesale price went up 40 per cent from July to December, making beef much pricier in Hong Kong than in Shenzhen.
The Fresh Beef Traders Alliance warned it was expecting a quarter of the 500 players in the business to go bust after the Lunar New Year as more consumers avoided buying increasingly expensive fresh beef.
But pork is not much cheaper. The auction price for live pigs reached a high of HK$1,830 per 100 catty last week, a rise of 20 per cent since the end of last month.
A butchers' alliance is considering strike action one day this week if pork prices continue to rise, saying it suspects suppliers are colluding to lift prices.
But Ko said that rising pork prices had more to do with a drop in supply during the Christmas and New Year holiday period. "We won't ignore this matter, but we need more time to look into it and determine the factors behind the price change for pork. We'll have to talk to the suppliers."