In the wake of our current biodiversity and climate crisis, which is putting the future of food, health and the environment under severe threat, Hong Kongers are still consuming meat and dairy at a higher rate than ever before. Comparative figures from a range of global data reports show that the import-dependent city alarmingly consumes much more seafood, beef, pork and dairy than world averages, as well as other Asian destinations like Taiwan. Although the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables have increased over time, figures still indicate that Hong Kongers on average struggle to eat as many veggie portions compared to other countries, including China.
Hong Kong’s food supply is heavily dependent on imports. In 2016, the Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) reported a low self-sufficiency rate for various food supplies, such as pork (6.8%), marine (33%) and freshwater fish (4%) and vegetables (1.7%). In sum, around 90% of the total food supply in the city is imported rather than locally grown or produced. In addition to importing most of our fresh produce from China, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States, Hong Kong also relies on chilled and frozen food imports to maintain a stable supply, according to the Food and Health Bureau’s statistics.
However, this was not always the case. Around 60 years ago, Hong Kong produced around two-thirds of the vegetables it consumed. This changed once agricultural land in Hong Kong became cleared or abandoned for real estate property development and other city infrastructure projects. Property developers now hold at least 1,000 hectares of agricultural land in the New Territories, according to a 2017 governmental Task Force on Land Supply. Farming villages have also been demolished to make room for infrastructure projects, most notably the high-speed railway linking Hong Kong to Guangzhou. Furthermore, as the city continues to grow its population, the authorities continue to look to convert land into housing rather than preserve it. Today, only 4% of Hong Kong’s land is agricultural, and less than 16% of it is actively farmed.
This puts Hong Kong in a uniquely vulnerable situation given that the planet is facing a rapidly deteriorating climate and biodiversity emergency. In February, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) issued a landmark report on the State of the World’s Biodiversity, which warned that the biodiversity – all the plants, animals and organisms – that sustains the global food system is disappearing because of changes in land and water use and management, climate change and pollution. In Asia, one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss is inefficient land use and the clearing or deforestation of land – what we have seen over the years in Hong Kong. The call for action was reiterated in the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) report in May, which highlighted that over one third of the earth’s land surface and three-quarters of freshwater resources are now devoted to inefficient crop and livestock production, and one third of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels. In addition, the most recent IPCC report has revealed that the world must shift towards plant-based diets if we are to sustain humanity.
Hong Kong must therefore make dramatic changes to its increasingly meat and dairy-heavy eating habits. Compared to the global average of 18.9 kilograms, Hong Kongers consume three times as much each year – 71.2 kilograms of seafood per person. Hong Kong diets aren’t just seafood heavy – Hong Kongers are consuming much more beef, pork, poultry, eggs and milk than ever before. In comparison to Taiwanese people, Hong Kong’s per capita beef consumption is five times as high. Compared to notoriously pork-loving Chinese consumers who eat triple the global average of pork, Hong Kongers in fact consume 5.5 times the international average according to OECD figures. Despite the fact that the 2018 Hong Kong Vegetarian Habit Survey indicated a growing flexitarian population and a declining ratio of “hardcore meat lovers”, these figures appear to suggest that a rise in meat and dairy consumption is set to continue.
It’s time for a reality check. Given that our environmental crisis has put a severe strain on global food security, the staggering amount of meat, dairy and eggs consumed by the average Hong Konger must be reduced. Measures should also be implemented to encourage ecologically friendly agriculture, such as urban farming, to increase Hong Kong’s self-sufficiency. The key message in these figures, as well as in the many global climate, biodiversity and land reports of late, is urgency – we need to eat less meat if we are to give the planet another chance.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.