November 7, 2008


Hong Kong's Food and Health Secretary criticized for suggestion


Secretary for Food and Health York, Chow Yat-Ngok was criticised for suggesting food prices should be determined by the market on Wednesday, 5 November 2008.


According to official figures, the average wholesale price of live pigs in October was HK$10.40 (US$1.34) per catty, more than 23 percent less than HK$13.6 (US$1.75) per catty in January.


However, the retail price of pork in October was 2.2 percent more than in January, reports The Standard.


Questioned in the Legislative Council, Chow said the policy objective of the administration was to maintain a stable food supply and ensure food safety.


Food prices should be determined by the free market and what the administration can do is to improve market transparency and enhance market efficiency so as to help consumers make wise decisions, said Chow.


Chow said there had been no unusual fluctuations in the auction price of live pigs since mid-January when the government made auction prices public.


However, the Consumer Council noted in August that there had been aggressive bidding by a few live pig buyers in a very small market.


The report found that as a whole, the live pig bidding process was open with improved transparency in the live pig trade, said Chow.


But legislator Fredrick Fung Kin-kee said Chow's response was unacceptable and accused the official of not probing the problem sufficiently.


Retailers always have their reasons. Chow has not further investigated or proved the main cause of the volatile pork retail price and the government is not sincere in trying to solve the situation, said Fung.


He also questioned whether the monitoring process was insufficient since some pig buyers were involved in aggressive bidding. Pork Traders General Association of Hong Kong deputy chairman Hui Wai-kin said comments by legislators were unreasonable.


Hui also said there have been price adjustments since the wholesale price has stabilized, but a spontaneous cut or increase in retail prices is not possible. The legislators and officers have not understudy the working style of the sector and he is disappointed as their calls are totally unreasonable, adding that the retail price of pork has dropped 30 percent from HK$50 (US$6.45) to around HK$36 (US$4.64) per catty since July.


However, as mainland pigs are to be tested for melamine in November, supply has been reduced and wholesale prices have shot up to around HK$1,400 (US$180) to HK$1,500 (US$193). Despite this the retail price has remained at around HK$36 (US$4.64) per catty.

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