Despite the problems the local livestock industry faces, some people believe the industry has its own advantages which can help it to survive. The AFCD says the local livestock supply alone cannot meet market demand, so Hong Kong must also rely on supplies from the Mainland. But as Hongkongers become more health and safety conscious, the quality of meat from the Mainland has become a big concern.
“Although the [livestock] regulation in China is the same as in Hong Kong, its enforcement isn’t as strict,” says 63-year-old Lee Leung-kei, who owns Wing Ming Chicken Farm in Yuen Long. Lee says many consumers are concerned about poor food safety in the Mainland, pointing to food scares such as the Sanlu milk powder scandal and the outbreak of avian influenza in Mainland farms last year.
“Most citizens are confident about purchasing local meats,” says Lee. “Local markets usually indicate clearly the origin of their livestock, which shows that people are wary about buying meat imported from China.”
Meanwhile, butcher and pig farmer Tao Kai-ching of Wing Shun Farm says local pork is safer. He says he rejects the use of drugs and chemicals to change his pigs’ physique, a pratice he says some Mainland farmers adopt.
There is some optimism in the industry prompted by the trend in many countries to eat locally grown and produced food that has not travelled over long distances or time. This, together with Hong Kong consumers’ growing preference for eating better gives Wing Ming Chicken farm’s Lee Leung-kei and other farmers reasons to be positive.
The Kamei chicken, introduced to the market in 2001, is a success story that shows how the local livestock industry can produce better quality meat. Before the programme began to develop a new breed of chicken, market research was conducted that found Hong Kong people had shifted their preference from fatty chicken to leaner chicken as they started to pursue a healthy diet. The farms used natural animal feed free from artificial colouring, hormones, antibiotics or other additives. Although Kamei chickens cost more than imported birds, they are popular with consumers.
Former legislative councillor Wong Yung-kan thinks more primary and secondary industries should be protected to avoid the homogenisation of the city. Hong Kong’s economy is mainly supported by tertiary industries, but there may be a crisis if this giant pillar collapses. “How can we make a living once the service industry shuts down? The city has neither factories nor agriculture, we have nothing,” he says.
The Hong Kong livestock industry has kept up a good record of preventing avian influenza since 2003 and local meat seems increasingly popular with citizens, but the future of local livestock farms remains uncertain without government assistance and a proper veterinary system. “Is it possible to have new and different thoughts on our local [livestock] industry? We should all think about it, especially the new generation,” says Wong.
Edited by Zoe So