The food and health chief says he remains receptive to opening up the live cattle market, amid the on-going surge in beef prices.
Speaking on the radio, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said various factors could have sparked the spike in prices, such as a limited supply of beef in the mainland which has driven up costs across the board.
Ko said consumers may have to consider alternatives to fresh beef, while retailers may need to change their business models if supply remains tight. He noted that Hong Kong accounted for a small share of the mainland's live cattle market and therefore the city was unlikely to have a great influence on the situation.
"There are different news reports that try to identify the factors behind the soaring price. Therefore, we have to be very cautious when determining our next step," Ko said.
When asked whether more distributors should be allowed to enter the market, Ko refused to express a personal view.
He said: "We are keeping an open mind on [the option]."
Ko refused to speculate on the impact opening up the market would have on Hong Kong.
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 between 2009 and 2011 at about 77 to 79 head of cattle a day.
The city's sole mainland beef distributor Ng Fung Hong yesterday said it also had an open mind on any market developments.
The firm reported a year-on-year fall of 11 per cent in gross profit on its live cattle imports last year. Ng Fung Hong imported 23,194 head of cattle last year – 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, compared with a gross profit of HK$28 million on imports of 25,474 head of cattle in 2011.