Beef prices to jump after Brazil 'shock'

Top News | Maisy Mok and Agencies 6 Sep 2021

Frozen beef sold in the city will become pricier after Brazil suspended beef exports to Hong Kong and China following mad cow disease cases.

Brazil's agriculture ministry has suspended beef exports to its top customer, China, after two cases of "atypical" mad cow disease were confirmed in two separate domestic meat plants.

Hong Kong and the mainland buy more than half of Brazil's beef exports.

Brazil is the top importer of frozen boneless beef in Hong Kong, with census figures showing that 60 percent of the boneless beef and 12 percent of beef with bones were from Brazil in 2017.

Simon Wong Ka-wo, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades, said frozen beef sold in stalls and other retailers could see a 30 percent price increase as importers of Brazil meat might gradually increase the price.

Wong said the suspension is a "shock" to the local catering sector as Brazil beef is commonly used in restaurants, adding they would have to find a replacement.

Wong estimates importers have two months of storage and if the problem cannot be sorted out shortly then prices in restaurants could go up.

Other representatives of the food and catering sectors expect frozen beef prices to go up by around 5 percent.

Cheng Hing, former chairman of the Hong Kong Frozen Meat and Seafood Wholesale Retailers Association, said beef prices could increase as wholesalers would not be selling their stock in large quantities.

But Yeung Wai-sing, chairman of the Association for Hong Kong Catering Services Management, said beef dishes in restaurants are unlikely to be affected as "under the pandemic [they] do not want to affect the market."

Restaurants such as cha chaan teng that offer affordable dishes will be affected the most, said Simon Wong Kit-Lung, president of Institution of Dining Art.

Wong said beef from Brazil is often used for making meatballs in Chinese restaurants.

"Beef from Brazil is rather cheap so [places that require good quality beef] like a steakhouse, Japanese hotpot or grill rarely use beef from Brazil," he added.

Fresh Beef Traders Alliance convener Hui Wai-kin said the supply of fresh beef to Hong Kong would not be affected as they are from the mainland. The United States, Britain and Argentina will continue to export frozen beef to Hong Kong.

The Centre for Food Safety said it will continue to follow up on developments.

Brazil's agriculture ministry said the suspension is part of an animal health protocol agreed between the two countries that allows Beijing time to take stock of the problem.

The two cases were "atypical" since the disease appeared "spontaneously and sporadically, unrelated to the ingestion of contaminated food," the ministry said.

The two bovine spongiform encephalopathy cases were identified in aged cattle during health inspections in Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso states. The cases bring to five "atypical" mad cow disease incidents detected in Brazil in 23 years.

Macau's Municipal Affairs Bureau said its beef imports have not been affected so far.

The last time China suspended importing cattle from Brazil was in June 2019, lasting several weeks, after an atypical case of mad cow disease was detected in Mato Grosso.

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