African swine fever returns to HK hitting city’s pork supply and leaving consumers counting cost of pricey meat

03-Jun-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

* Latest case discovered in Sheung Shui slaughterhouse with 4,700 pigs needing to be culled

* City’s largest abattoir will be out of action for four days with price of pork soaring as supplies dwindle

The Hong Kong government has been urged to come up with a sustainable policy to handle African swine fever, after the sudden shutdown of a slaughterhouse on Saturday dried up supply and left consumers paying over the odds for pork. The discovery of a second case of the disease on Friday night means health authorities expect to cull 4,700 pigs at the premises in Sheung Shui, which along with any subsequent sanitation should take four days.

A lawmaker and some butchers said the closure of the larger of the city’s two abattoirs twice in about a month had cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, while the problem kept returning.

“Hong Kong should stop right away importing any pigs from mainland China, which has been the source of the infection so far,” said Helena Wong Pik-wan, a Democratic Party lawmaker.

“Hong Kong taxpayers are not an automatic teller machine, which the government has drawn HK$20 million to compensate Hong Kong pig farm owners for culling 6,000 pigs last time, and this time we expect the bill will be HK$15 million.”

Shoppers, butchers and pig owners were caught off guard on Friday night when Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, revealed the virus had been detected in a dead pig at the government-owned facility.

She said the slaughterhouse, which accounts for 80 per cent of the city’s pork supply, would shut down for the second time in a month. The last shutdown took place on May 11 -18, during which 6,000 pigs were killed.

The disease is not harmful to humans, but deadly to pigs. A huge outbreak of African swine fever in mainland China has resulted in more than a million pigs either dying from the disease, or being culled since last August.

The latest dead animal in question had been imported from a farm in Meizhou city of Guangdong province, on May 25, the Food and Health Bureau said on Saturday. At that time, it did not show any syndromes of the disease, and health authorities are investigating the case, it added.

The earlier case was found in a pig imported from Zhanjiang in Guangdong.

Wong said Hong Kong’s health authorities must step up inspection and quarantine work as efforts on the mainland left much to be desired.

Entrepreneur Yau and his wife, Yau, who have run a butcher’s shop at the Tai Po Hui Market for 15 years, said their shop Pang Kee, had forced to close for business for 13 days over the past month.

“We suffer so much, can the government come up with a more comprehensive policy to deal with the swine fever issue and minimise the impact on us and consumers?” Yau said while preparing to close again, this time until Tuesday.

“We still have to pay rents and utilities while the store is closed.”

The couple want the government to impose temporary relief, such as waving rents at their 200 square foot store for a month. There are about 25 pork butchers in the Tai Po Hui Market.

Shoppers felt the pinch as the cost of meat soared, with fresh pork costing 28 per cent more at HK$90 per catty (600 grams) at a butchers in Tai Po Hui Market, which was selling Friday’s stock.

“It was all snapped up within a couple of hours,” said a butcher surnamed Chan, who was closing the shop for the day at about 9:30am.

“Even if there is new supply tomorrow, it will be even more expensive. We have ordered some stock from the other abattoir but the wholesale price is HK$1,000 more at HK$3,800 [per 100 catties], which is 35 per cent higher.”

The city’s fresh pork supply will rely on the smaller of the city’s two abattoirs, Tsuen Wan Abattoir, which on average can handle 400 pigs a day.

Chan Kin-yip, chair of the Federation of Hong Kong Agricultural Association, called on butchers to refrain from raising prices.

“I suggest the stakeholders to maintain wholesale prices at HK$2,000 [per 100 catties],” he said. Wholesale prices before the second case of swine fever varied between HK$2,300 and HK$2,800 per 100 catties.

The Post has contacted the Food and Health Bureau for comment.


Category: Hong Kong

Print This Post