Fat's in fire on pig supply amid protests

Editorial | Mary Ma 23 Aug 2019

Many weeks have passed since Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee announced she had been communicating with the mainland, with a view to supplying more pigs to Hong Kong.

I have no doubt Chan tried her best, but her efforts apparently haven't been as successful as wished for.

Supplies remain tight and retail prices continue to jump. While those who rarely go to market places may not readily know the plight this presents, housewives are in the best position to tell the difference - inflation is biting hard.

The greater concern is that as pork prices soar, it's only a matter of time before other sources of protein follow suit. As consumers turn to meat alternatives - fish, chicken, beef, lamb or frozen meat - their prices will also rise along with demand.

Unless Chan is able to persuade the mainland authorities - especially those in Guangdong - to boost hog supplies, the knock-on effect will soon become conspicuous.

For example, according to a CNBC report, the prices of white-feathered chicken surged nearly 50 percent in the mainland, from about 7.5 yuan (HK$8.30) a kilogram for the past two years, to about 11 yuan - more than HK$12 - per kilo in May.

Prices for fish, lamb and beef have also gone up by single or double-digit percentages.

My sympathy goes out to Chan. As I said before, it would require assistance from Beijing if Guangdong - the country's major hog-producing province - is to set aside more pigs for Hong Kong, when it's already under pressure to produce more to meet domestic needs.

Continual outbreaks of African swine fever epidemic in the mainland are certainly a major cause for the reduced production. However, the increased animosity of mainlanders toward Hongkongers may also be blamed for the unwillingness to increase supplies.

As Beijing whipped up nationalistic feelings to unite mainlanders against the so-called "color revolution by separatists" in Hong Kong, would livestock farmers and municipal government officials be amenable to requests from our food and health secretary?

Perhaps they may have even ridiculed the SAR by saying since it wants to be free of mainland interference, it better look after itself.

Without direct intervention from Beijing, Chan's attempt to solve the shortage is doomed to failure. But would Beijing be willing to intervene when it, at one stage, was poised to clamp down on Hong Kong's protests militarily?

The issue is whether things could change for the better now if Hong Kong's situation continues improving. As Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor paves the way for dialogue with the opposition, she may wish to bring up the hog issue with Beijing in parallel.

For some, it's a bit amazing there's been no more reports of swine fever cases at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse when mainland pig farms continue to be hit by fresh outbreaks.

Nonetheless, the health policy that all pigs will be culled if one sample tests positive should be reviewed scientifically if mainland farmers are to be persuaded to be forthcoming.

The cause for Hong Kong's hogtied plight is more complicated than thought.

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