Meat Consumption Growth in Hong Kong is Alarming

May 19 · 9 min read

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) issued a report a few months ago warning that global biodiversity is rapidly deteriorating, seriously threatening future food supplies. Humans rely on a very small number of foods to cope with more and more food demands, resulting in higher and higher food risks.

On one hand, the increase in food consumption is not only because of population growth, but more importantly because of the sharp increase in the per capita food consumption quantity. On the other hand, food production is also facing a new bottleneck, due to the deterioration of biodiversity caused by, among others, environmental pollution, climate change, spread of invasive species, depleting natural resources by modern farming and fishing practices, heavily use of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics in the food industry, large scale deforestations for urbanization and farming, etc.

Firstly, this article reports the per capita food consumption of Hong Kong people over the past 60 years in comparison with that of Taiwan. The result is alarming and is a good comparison supporting the FAO’s worry on food risks.

Figure 1 is a comparison of Hong Kong people’s per capita seafood consumption per year in 2011 with the other nine countries. Hong Kong ranked second in the world in terms of seafood consumption, with an average of 71.2 kilograms of seafood per person per year (equivalent to eating about 120 numbers of 1-catty fish) which is nearly three times higher than the global average of 18.9 kilograms.

Figure 1 The highest per capita seafood consumption area. Source: AFCD (2019)

Since Hong Kong was originally a fishing port, it may explain why Hong Kong’s seafood consumption quantity is higher than that of many other inland areas. However, if we compared the per capita consumption of fish in Hong Kong with Taiwan over the past 50 years, you will find a mind-boggling chart (Figure 2). More than 50 years ago, when both HK and Taiwan people consumed about 30 kilograms of fish per person per year, how come would the per capita consumption of fish by Hong Kong people be doubled in 50 years’ time, when the Taiwanese are still consuming at about the same quantity as before. How can we explain why Hong Kong people’s per capita consumption of fish can be 100% more than that of Taiwanese? Can the seafood consumption of Hong Kong people be sustainable?

Figure 2 Annual per capita seafood consumption of Hong Kong people and Taiwanese 1961–2013. Source: https://ourworldindata.org/meat-and-seafood-production-consumption

And it is not just about seafood consumption that Hong Kong people are consuming much more than Taiwanese, but almost all types of meat consumption share the same phenomenon! Figure 3, Figure 4, Figure 6, Figure 7, and Figure 8 show the per capita consumption of beef, pork, poultry, eggs, and milk in Hong Kong and Taiwan in the past 50 years. The consumption of all these animal protein containing food in Hong Kong is much higher than that in Taiwan.

Figure 3 Annual per capita beef consumption of Hong Kong people and Taiwanese 1961–2013. Source: https://ourworldindata.org/meat-and-seafood-production-consumption

Unbelievably, in terms of beef consumption, the current Hong Kong’s per capita beef consumption was five times more than that of Taiwan (Figure 3). Interestingly, there was a sudden substantial jump in the beef consumption quantity since 2003, from less than 15 kg each to nearly 30 kg each, it is againa double in consumption! The per capita beef consumption in Hong Kong has risen from 6.42 kg to 25.82 kg in the past 50 years, but in Taiwan it has only increased from 0.34 kg to 5.21 kg. Hong Kong’s per capita beef consumption is more than five times that of Taiwan! Even taking into account the trend of hot pot cuisines, it still sounds unreasonable for each HK people eating 26kg beef each year! It is equivalent to about 0.5kg per week per person. Someone suggested that it is because of illegal cross-border smuggling that explains for the rapid increase in beef consumption in Hong Kong after 2003, but there is no official statistics on this matter.

In terms of pork consumption, the per capita pork consumption in Hong Kong has also risen from 18.51 kg to 67.11 kg in the past 50 years, but Taiwan has only increased from 16.78 kg to 39.37 kg in the same period, and consumption in recent years has started to fall, as shown in Figure 4. Fifty years ago, when the per capita pork consumption quantities of the two economies were almost the same, but after about 50 years, Hong Kong’s pork consumption has already been 1.7 times that of Taiwan!

Figure 4 Annual per capita pork consumption of Hong Kong people and Taiwanese 1961–2013. Source: https://ourworldindata.org/meat-and-seafood-production-consumption

Globally, Chinese are regarded as pork lovers. The per capita pork consumption is nearly three times that of the international average, as shown in Figure 5. However, the current per capita pork consumption quantity of HK people is actually 5.5 times the international average! It is really hard to explain how can HK people eat so much meat every week.

Figure 5 National and international averages of high global per capita pork consumption 2017, source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-11/hog-apocalypse-in-china-leaves-farmers -fortifying-pigsties

In terms of poultry meat consumption, the per capita consumption of poultry meat in Hong Kong has increased from 8.1 kg to 54.86 kg in the past 50 years, but in Taiwan it has only increased from 4.48 kg to 32.13 kg. The per capita consumption of poultry meat in Hong Kong is 1.7 times that of Taiwan! (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Annual per capita poultry consumption of Hong Kong people and Taiwanese 1961–2013. Source: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-11/hog-apocalypse-in-china-leaves-farmers-fortifying-pigsties

It is not just about meat, but all types of animal-protein-containing foods share a similar pattern. For example, eggs and milk consumptions of HK are much more than that of Taiwan, and the sudden substantial growth is also found in milk consumption after 2003, almost the same time as beef consumption jump.

Figure 7 Annual per capita milk consumption of Hong Kong and Taiwanese 1961–2013. Source: https://ourworldindata.org/meat-and-seafood-production-consumption

In terms of milk consumption, it is very similar to beef consumption. Before 2003, Hong Kong’s per capita milk consumption was more than ten times that of Taiwan. However, in the last decade, Hong Kong people’s milk consumption suddenly increased sharply, probably related to the “2008 Chinese Milk Scandal”[1] in Mainland China. The per capita milk consumption in Hong Kong has risen from 24.82 kg to 105.85 kg in the past 50 years, but Taiwan has only increased from 2.35 kg to 41.72 kg in the same period, which has been declining since mid-1990. Hong Kong’s per capita milk consumption is more than 2.5 times that of Taiwan! (Figure 7) What is the reason for the rapid increase in milk consumption in Hong Kong after 2003? Why do the per capita consumption of beef and milk show such a similar change? What is the driving force behind the changes in the food culture?

Among the various types of meat, only the consumption of eggs can we find that Taiwan’s consumption increase has been faster than that of Hong Kong. The per capita egg consumption of Hong Kong in the past 50 years has risen from 7.37 kg to 14.5 kg, but in the same period, Taiwan rose from 1.56 kg to 13.08 kg, an increase of more than 7 times. (Figure 8) In other words, in the consumption of six types of meat and animal-protein-containing foods, including milk and eggs, Hong Kong’s per capita consumption is in general much higher than that of Taiwan. The data reflects that Hong Kong people’s per capita meat consumption is not only much higher than other regions, but also the growth rate is staggering.

Figure 8 Annual per capita egg consumption of Hong Kong people and Taiwanese 1961–2013. Source: https://ourworldindata.org/meat-and-seafood-production-consumption

On the supply side, there is a decline in the number of livestock, poultry, milk and eggs supply in recent years. Only the quality fish farming industry has increased, but none of them have reached the level of self-sufficiency, and some types of meat even have a self-sufficiency rate of less than 10%.

According to the AFCD annual report, the self-sufficiency rate of pork in Hong Kong in 2016 was only 6.8%. There is no information on the self-sufficiency rate of beef and milk, and it is believed to be 0%, as there is no ranch in Hong Kong anymore. The self-sufficiency rate of poultry is higher, of about 94.6%, which is probably because of the bird flu control implemented about 10 years ago, that has resulted in a very low consumption rate of fresh poultry in Hong Kong. The self-sufficiency rate of marine fish and freshwater fish are 33% and 4% respectively.

Lastly, the per capita consumption rate of vegetable consumption of Hong Kong is lower than both Taiwan and International average. The per capita consumption of vegetable in Hong Kong has increased from about 55 kg in 1961 to about 105 kg in 2013, which is still below the global average of 134 kg of vegetable consumption, and much lower than the China average of 328 kg each! (Figure 9)

Figure 9 Annual per capita vegetable consumption of Hong Kong people and Taiwanese 1961–2013. Source: https://www.helgilibrary.com/indicators/vegetable-consumption-per-capita/taiwan/

However, as the area of agricultural land in Hong Kong is rapidly reduced or abandoned, vegetable production and hence the self-sufficiency rate have dropped sharply (the self-sufficiency rate of vegetable HK in 2016 is as low as 1.7%).

Figure 10 summarizes the per capita consumption quantities per year of the above several types of food in Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2013. The total consumption quantity of animal-protein-containing food (not incl. goat, buffalo and others) by HK people is up to 338kg per person per year, which is more than double that of Taiwanese! It is equivalent to eating almost 1kg meat+milk+egg per person per day, and it is three times more than the consumption rate of vegetable. There must be something very unique in HK to explain the phenomenon.

Figure 10 A summary of the per capita consumption quantities per year of the above several types of food in Hong Kong and Taiwan in 2013

In other words, Hong Kong’s various food supplies are highly dependent on imports. In case of any international food shortage crises, Hong Kong may bear the brunt and be difficult to overcome. In the wake of the current biodiversity crisis, the Hong Kong government must carefully prepare and deal with the related food risks, including a reduction of the per capita food consumption and an increase of food self-sufficiency. We also urged the government to urgently implement policies encouraging ecological friendly agriculture and fisheries to produce more food and avoiding damage to the environment, promoting biodiversity to combat climate change.

[Updated at 6:45pm, May 19, 2019 with Figure 10 added. Updated at 08:25, May 20, 2019 with 2008 Chinese Milk Scandal footnote [1] added.]

[the article is a translation of the report I produced and released for HK Ecological Friendly Vision’s Report #R001 on “the consumption and self-sufficiency of foods in Hong Kong” released on the Earth Day on 22 April 2019, Chinese full version available at 港生善願的首份研究報告:《香港糧食消耗及自給率趨勢研究報告(#R001)》於2019年4月22日世界地球日正式公布: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nYTOVzWeeI8HFAAcGJeeR10_cpRxr8Q5/view?fbclid=IwAR2llTlSEyxCykOZq_2ZSuourTAjX5g4VrJXPRmFydojZafPaswAFmHPaOs]

[1] 2008 Chinese Milk Scandal — The scandal involved milk and infant formula along with other food materials and components being adulterated with melamine. The scandal destroyed all trust in locally produced infant formula, and since then many Shenzhen residents and parallel traders travel across the border to purchase powdered milk from Hong Kong shops. Although the Hong Kong government imposed a strict 2-can limit on the export of infant formula in March 2013, trafficking activity including for powdered milk continues. (Wikipedia on 2008 Chinese Milk Scandal). Referring to the source of data on per capita milk consumption, milk is defined to “include the milk equivalents of dairy products made from milk
ingredients, but excludes butter. Data is based on per capita food supply at the
consumer level, but does not account for food waste at the consumer level.” (https://ourworldindata.org/meat-and-seafood-production-consumption)

Edward Yiu

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Edward Yiu is the Founder of Real Estate Development and Building Research and Information Centre, REDBRIC

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