In a rare public disclosure, the city's sole mainland beef distributor has reported a year-on-year fall of 11 per cent in gross profit on its live cattle imports.
Ng Fung Hong imported 23,194 head of cattle last year, accounting for about 89 per cent of Hong Kong's total live cattle import. Its turnover was HK$396 million, with gross profit of about HK$25 million. That compared to gross profit of about HK$28 million, with turnover of HK$350 million, on imports of 25,474 head of cattle in 2011.
The rare release of business figures came as calls mounted for breaking the company's hold on wholesale fresh beef, which meat retailers have blamed for rising prices over the past year.
While Ng Fung Hong is the only authorised distributor of wholesale fresh beef, another importer, Guangnan Hong, accounts for about 11 per cent of the supply. Guangnan Hong imports cattle from Guangdong. Ng Fung Hong gets its supplies from as far away as Inner Mongolia.
In a statement yesterday, Ng Fung Hong said it was open to the market widening and that it would be "more open" and "actively release information to the public". The company raised wholesale beef prices six times last year. Wholesale prices are now HK$67.90 a kilogram for regular beef and HK$71.30 a kilogram for premium. It said it was forced to raise prices partly due to the rising cost of feedstuff and labour, and also because the Hong Kong market only accepted quality Qinchuan and Simmental cattle breeds of about 600kg each.
But legislator Wong Kwok-hing said: "Beef here is already pricier than in Shenzhen. Do the cattle across the border not eat the same feedstuff? Do the cattle there only eat cheap feed?"
Fresh Beef Traders Alliance convenor Hui Wai-kin questioned the figures. "The wholesale price has gone up more than a third over the year. How come their gross profit has shrunk?"
The Food and Health Bureau is conducting a study, due to be completed in March, into whether competition in the supply of fresh beef from the mainland would slow soaring prices.
Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department data put beef consumption in Hong Kong at about 77 to 79 head of cattle a day from 2009 to 2011.