Shark-fin banquet ban needs support

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 July, 2012, 12:00am


Changing traditions is not easy. It is even more difficult when substantial economic interests are involved. The battle to curb consumption of shark fin on the mainland is a case in point. Despite intensifying global campaigns to take the dish off the menu, appetite for the delicacy remains strong. Now there is encouraging news for those who have been trying to save the increasingly endangered species. The central government is reportedly considering banning shark fin at official banquets. According to the China National Radio, the Government Offices Administration of the State Council is expected to issue guidelines in three years against serving the dish at banquets paid for by the taxpayer. A Xinhua report says there will be stronger supervision of official receptions, including restricting expenses for luxury food.

No matter whether the ban is motivated by environmental concerns or the need to curb lavish spending, it is the right step to take. It may encourage the public to follow suit and keep shark fin off the dining table. The sooner the ban is imposed, the better.

There are historical reasons why China has become the world's biggest consumer of shark fin - the nation accounts for 95 per cent of the trade. For centuries, the delicacy was coveted by emperors and has been served as a symbol of wealth and prestige for guests at business, wedding and birthday banquets. It is also an economic lifeline for many who live by the trade, such as fishermen, dealers and restaurateurs. Any attempt to suppress consumption is likely to face strong opposition.

There is perhaps no better way to strengthen the campaign than for the central government to take the lead. But the ban should be only the first step. Banquet hosts and diners can make a difference in selecting their choice of food. Hotels and restaurants can also play a part by taking the dish off the menu voluntarily. Collective efforts are needed to instil the change.