Protest against bear bile IPO

February 17th, 2012 atam Posted in Animal welfare, General No Comments »

Awareness of the need for animal welfare is slowly but surely growing in China, as evidenced by the protest against plans by a pharmaceutical company that uses bear bile for medicine to launch an initial public offering.

But of course, a lot remains to be done where animal welfare is concerned. In Hong Kong, we still have animals trapped for human entertainment – which those in charge describe as “education”. And apparently, animals can also be classed, like humans, as “residents” or “illegal immigrants” and treated accordingly. Remember the wild boars that Ocean Park wanted to put down for intruding into what used to be their natural roaming ground? More recently, the Botanical Gardens, which announced the birth of orangutan twins recently and which houses wild animals in cages way too small for them to remain sane, has taken to trapping stray cats that have wandered in from their nearby colonies, to be handed over to the AFCD. Guess what their fate is. Not as painful as that of the ten strays that were poisoned in Wong Tai Sing, but a grim fate all the same.

The protest against the bear bile IPO, while encouraging, suggests that there is a limit to the market’s amorality that is way too high. Why, for example, did the listing of the slimming firm Perfect Shape not raise any kind of eyebrows at all? Is it really all right to make money out of people’s low self-esteem?

Of course, taken to the extreme, there must be hundreds of companies which should not be listed – and then ethical funds will go bust because their niche would disappear. But it’s really true that many publicly listed firms shouldn’t be publicly listed in the first place.

Yu Kee is a cautionary tale. Has anyone who’s noticed the grocery chain’s disappearance from Hong Kong’s wet markets wondered why it went bankrupt? It was simple: the owner wanted to flip more money and was told by financial advisers to boost its balance sheet. To do that the firm decided to buy some of the shops it was renting at the time, borrowing money to do so however high the price, but in the end the gearing proved too much.

Plenty of companies manage to list despite such challenges, and then you can only wish the investors luck. Hong Kong officials like to take the high moral ground by resisting suggestions to build casinos in the city, but the reality is the casinos are already here.


World Vegetarian Day

September 28th, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Food 1 Comment »

October 1 is World Vegetarian Day and October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, so even if you’re not a vegetarian, how ’bout skipping the meat for a day, or two, and see what it’s like?

Overconsumption of meat is not only bad for us, it’s bad for the planet. World Health Organisation director-general Margaret Chan recently called for governments to take action against junk food because illnesses and deaths due to non-communicable diseases related to our lifestyle and diet threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems.

OK, so we’re talking about the same person who, when she was Hong Kong’s health czar in the days of SARS, ate chicken to demonstrate that it was safe to do so. Her latest call though would suggest that she’s taken a more enlightened line. It’s not just the steroids and antibiotics livestock are fed with that make them so harmful to our health, but the simple fact that we eat so much of it, leading to the epidemic of obesity, cancer and heart disease that prompted WHO to take a stance.

And junk food is predominantly meat. McDonald’s would like us to think they offer healthy options, but when’s the last time anyone who walks into a fast food outlet is found to be looking for fruits and vegetables rather than burgers, meat balls and chicken nuggets?

Long before WHO made its call to action, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, was already urging the public to shun meat because of its impact on climate change.

The body, of course, needs its protein, but on average we need less than 1g per kilogram of body weight per day, and we can get most of it from plants rather than meat, considering there’s protein in food that we normally associate with carbohydrates as well. A slab of roast pork and we’re already over the limit in terms of daily protein intake as well as consumption of saturated fat, and we really need to look after ourselves, since healthcare costs can only go up.


What’s safe to eat?

June 22nd, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Food, Greenwash 1 Comment »

Would you eat meat cultivated in a laboratory?

It doesn’t sound very appealing, but think about it: we eat fake meat made from soy protein all the time, not to mention spam, sausages with more artificial colouring and preservatives than meat, and actual meat – or even water melons – with more antibiotics and/or growth hormones/accelerators than nutrients.

So let me make a prediction: by selling the concept of cultured meat as being more climate-friendly and less costly for those involved in its manufacture, there will eventually emerge a whole new industry concerned with the making, packaging, transportation, sale and marketing of cultured meat. It will develop into a powerful lobby in its own right, with the influence in government and myths among members of the public to make it difficult to introduce any kind of regulation detrimental to its interests.

Of course, that’s all assuming that the already-powerful livestock lobby wouldn’t nip this potential competition in the bud.

If you want an example of how no amount of CSR will trump the profit motive, look no further than the politics of food. Yes, some fast food chain may claim to have stopped cruel chicken farming practices, but that won’t stop their suppliers from adding chemicals and hormones to the feed. The Taiwanese companies that supplied plasticiser to food firms have been found out, but there are many many more who haven’t, not because they’re using illegal ingredients, but because the authorities’ knowledge of the dangers contained in the additives, the containers or the food itself is limited.

Typically, by the time we wake up to the danger, it’s already too late: the supply chain has grown into too powerful a lobby to be controlled and we’re so used to the food that we simply deny or ignore the dangers they pose.

Health authorities may even say that the amount of chemicals or whatever is too small to pose a danger to human health, but when you’re getting them from everything you eat, the amount adds up.

Is it any wonder incidents of cancer are rising everywhere?


Biodegradeable sunscreen?

April 29th, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Earth No Comments »

Can anyone tell me where to find a biodegradeable sunscreen in Hong Kong?

Awareness of the cruelty of the shark’s fin trade may have increased, but we are still eating critically endangered coral fish like the humphead wrasse (蘇眉) and directly killing the coral reefs they and other marine species depend on by using toxic sunscreen.

All the sunscreens available from regular retailers contain oxybenzone and other chemicals responsible for the coral damage, which are also suspected to be bad for humans. They are so bad, some cruise destinations now require visitors to use biodegradeable sunscreens to protect their seas. Yet, awareness of the issue in beach-loving Hong Kong appears to be next to zero.


Conservation, what conservation?

April 11th, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare 2 Comments »

Oh dear, the theme park that claims to have done more to educate people in the value of marine conservation than green NGOs has found three wild boars – the true natives of the area – in its restricted area – and promptly arranged to have them removed.

One wild boar managed to go back to the hills beyond Ocean Park, but two weren’t so lucky: cue AFCD, which actually tranquilised them rather than brutally caught them or put them down on the spot. The department was said to be considering whether or not to put them down. What do you think would be the decision?

Wouldn’t an organisation that really cares about animals be more prepared to deal with the discovery in a more humane and informed way? A couple of months ago a group of joggers/walkers came across a family of porcupines right in the middle of Bowen Road, startled by a passing car into defence mode (ie. quills all standing on end), and calmly waited for them to calm down and make their way into the bush again rather than call the police or AFCD.

But not Ocean Park, oh no. Wild boars not belonging to the theme park nor procured for the purpose of entertainment have no place in an area they’ve always roamed, so let’s get rid of them.

Conservation, what conservation?


Take “animal management” off AFCD’s hands

March 31st, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare No Comments »

AFCD’s at it again: after someone reported the incident with the buffalo, the department promptly rounded up three – not necessarily belonging to the group that caused the goring – and put them down.

It’s not the first time the department has acted callously towards animals; just ask Hong Kong Dog Rescue about the condition in which dogs it’s rescued from the department’s kennels is found. Or people who have witnessed the brutal ways in which they capture wild boars or stray cats.

Quite what the department – the full name of which is Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department – has to do with animals? Its name offers no hint at all, and if one is to check their website, one would find a section called “Inspection and quarantine” that deals with both plants and animals. The part that concerns animals addresses pet ownership, with only a small section that concerns the import and export of animal products and livestock keeping. There’s a section called “Animal control” that deals entirely with dog licensing.

Essentially, it doesn’t have a remit for dealing with live animals that are not pets or pigs (since chickens are now banned due to fear of bird flu), so its only solution when called upon to handle stray or wild animals is to wipe them off its books any which way it can. Perhaps its “animal management centre” is best renamed “animal extermination centre”; except, of course, often the animals don’t make it to the centre before being exterminated.

The animals that co-exist with us, whether they’re abandoned buffaloes or stray cats, have far more to teach us about respect for life in all its manifestations than a theme park, and yet it’s left to volunteers and NGOs to fight for their right to life. With awareness of the importance of animal welfare growing, isn’t it time clear rules were laid down by the government to protect them from abuse, whether by pet shop owners, cruel individuals or its own staff?


Bad education

March 29th, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare, General No Comments »

Ocean Park chief executive Tom Mehrmann recently upset conservationists by suggesting the theme park does more to educate the public on wildlife conservation than green NGOs do.

Do the NGOs have a point? Here’s a theme park trying to capture endangered marine species for display, the most recent species being beluga whales – which are not only an endangered species but also one that is not suited to the sub-tropical weather of Hong Kong. Even if the aquarium’s temperature is adjusted to be more Arctic, it will not take away the cruelty of a life of confinement in a tank which will never offer the freedom of the oceans.

Education? Ocean Park’s function is to reap loads of money by exploiting animals to provide entertainment – but of course some of the profits is put into a conservation fund to silence critics. Do visitors who pay to watch dolphins jump through hoops go away with a message about the need to protect our critically overfished and acidifying seas?

The answer is no: they come away thinking these animals are cute and harmless, subject to our manipulation without much awareness on our part of when manipulation becomes abuse.

Unlike other species, man is slow and weak, incapable of sprinting away from predators or using strength or biological weapons like horns or claws to defend himself. Our ancestors’ natural response to other animals therefore is fear and a wish to hide until ways could be found to defend themselves.

When this natural fear is replaced by unnatural responses engendered by ‘education’ that makes people think animals are to be played around with rather than feared, we get consequences like the innocent guy who was gored by a buffalo on Lantau after someone else was stupid enough to try and mount one of the animals earlier in the day.

This kind of bad education also affects the fate of domestic animals. They may be domesticated, but they are still subject to their natural instincts, whether that’s to protect their territory or attack when stared at, universally interpreted in the animal world as a sign of hostility. Instead, the animals become anthropomorphised and subjected to inappropriate treatment. Remember the cat owners who want a cat park for their felines? Cats are solitary, territorial animals, but these owners haven’t a clue. Thanks to places like Ocean Park, we can expect more such embarrassing calls from residents of what its government says is “Asia’s world city”.


World records for Hong Kong – are you proud?

February 27th, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Earth, Food, General No Comments »

Hey three cheers for Hong Kong, for achieving so many records! What are they? Let’s see, Hong Kong:

  1. is the fur trading capital of the world
  2. leads the world in the trade and consumption of shark’s fin, with tacit government approval
  3. is topping the West in wine sales and auction (who cares about all those who die because of alcohol)
  4. has the highest Gini co-efficient of all advanced economies
  5. is the freest economy by the standards of the neocon American think tank Heritage Foundation
  6. consumes more water per person than any other place in the world
  7. has the world’s 2nd most expensive shopping district (a humble local shopowner wants a space to make a living? Get lost!)
  8. is the place to go if one wants to list a dodgy red chip
  9. has the most expensive housing in the world
  10. is where the most expensive, soon-to-be extinct bluefin tuna was consumed

And let’s not forget we have arguably the world’s highest concentration of princes and princesses. Find me one post-90s who knows how to pick up after himself/herself. So are we living in an ethical, sustainable society, or one which is heading for a fall?


Grow Hong Kong, till society explodes

February 23rd, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Food, General No Comments »

After arguing over lai sees that a resident left with one who was then accused by others for failing to distribute among all, a group of cleaners at a building near me got the sack.

The lai sees given by residents and visitors during Chinese New Year ought to be a help for these low-wage earners; instead, management found a flimsy excuse to fire them all, ahead of the enactment of the minimum wage.

So well done Hong Kong, for achieving 6.8% GDP growth. We could have a more compassionate society in which people can live secure, healthy lives with stable jobs and affordable necessities. But no. Study after study have shown income above a certain level does not equate with happiness and rampant economic growth has been demonstrated to be both socially and ecologically destructive – look no further than China, where you can’t even eat without worrying about heavy metal poisoning and where Hong Kong obtains most of its own food. Yet, all the government can think to do is stick to its course and attempt to patch up the breaking seams of an increasingly dysfunctional society through an insane budget.

There’s an electricity subsidy that will encourage people to waste energy. A 15% increase on the vehicle first registration tax – to not upset existing car owners, at the same time continuing to dodge the issue of a concession charge. Subsidising the establishment of “social enterprises” rather than addressing the funnelling of society’s wealth into tycoons’ pockets, which has left people unable to run independent businesses without this kind of lofty-sounding assistance. Looking to “allocate resources for the building of tourism hardware and software”, including the “further development of our theme parks” – you know, like the one that Shanghai hesitated to host because it squeezed Hong Kong out of such an unequal arrangement; or the one that treats fish species that are close to extinction as fair exhibits.

Give with one, take with the other while making things worse the whole time.

How ’bout the “sustainable development” the government used to love talking about, say by injecting funds into developing local agriculture to cushion the effects of food price inflation that will only get worse? Not a chance.  Funny that: inflation is expected to hit 6% this year but GDP growth only 4-5%, so while the majority of people are worse off, the government continues to trumpet its success.  Does that make sense?


Noah’s Ark not one for rabbits

February 8th, 2011 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Greenwash No Comments »

In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, Noah was instructed by God to build an ark for his family and a pair of each species of animals, to save them from the deluge that would be sent to punish man for his wickedness.

Don’t count on the so-called Noah’s Ark at Ma Wan to save any rabbits though.

Some of my older relatives still remember the days when one had to take a ferry over to Ma Wan Island, to enjoy the view and fish. Now, of course, the whole area has been commodified courtesy of the government and Sun Hung Kai Properties. Fish and enjoy the views for free? Get yourself a ticket first please!

Now connected by road thanks to the government’s own tourist attraction by the name of the Tsing Ma Bridge, Ma Wan Island has been turned into a theme park by the developer, and not just any theme park, but one that’s based on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. If Jesus in a manger can sell Christmas so well, they must have figured, why don’t we make a killing by playing the piety card? Hey, we’re not a kitsch tourist attraction, we’re a “a multi-media vehicle designed to foster love for self and others; love for the well-being of the body and spirit; love for life; love for the environment; love for learning; love for challenges; [and] love to serve others”.

We paved a pristine island and plonked a fake boat on it, but we love the environment, and seeing this is the Year of the Rabbit, let’s invite our visitors to adopt rabbits while they’re here, ‘cos we love animals, see?

Understandably, animal welfare groups are alarmed. The theme park’s operator promised that those interested have to pass an assessment and rabbits that aren’t adopted will remain in the park. Wouldn’t it be better to use the opportunity to educate visitors on responsible animal care instead of using them as a sales gimmick?