Letters to the Editor, November 5, 2013

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 12:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 12:33am


Asian farmers deserve decent living wage

The article ("Food safety threats highlight need for proactive approach", October 29) by Bram Klaeijsen, of Cargill, and John in de Braekt, of Mars Incorporated, rightly points out that food security and food safety will be defining global issues in the years to come. It fails, however, to address several critical aspects of the challenge.

Firstly, primary producers of food, that is, farmers and rural processors throughout Asia, must be compensated with a decent and fair living wage for their services.

In mainstream global business terms, competitive advantage means externalising costs and underpricing agricultural inputs, often using cheap labour and thus exposing food supply chains to unethical and dangerous practices.

This is evidenced in high-profile cases ranging from tainted milk powder in China to horsemeat sold as beef in Europe. Greater monitoring will help, but not solve this fundamental problem. Safe food will naturally be more expensive.

Furthermore, we must move beyond conventional notions of food safety and be brutally honest about the food we eat. Can food be deemed safe if in the long run it makes us sick? The global diabetes epidemic is driven by excessive consumption of sugar and packaged foods. As consumers, we are bad at monitoring and restricting our behaviour and reliant on appropriate rules to curb consumption of foods that are dangerous in large quantities. This can also be achieved through more appropriate legislation, labelling, pricing and taxes - all of which are opposed by the so-called food industry. Packaged sweets, soft drinks and nutritionally empty food should be taxed, similarly to tobacco. In the US, food marketers resist this through lobbying and consumers suffer the consequences.

As for food security, resource allocation in terms of land and water use and input management is paramount. Government policies must be set to prioritise feeding people high-quality food (not simply more) ahead of attracting investment and making shareholders happy. Finally, it is well documented that we are producing enough food to feed the majority of the planet.

Investments should be made in post-harvest infrastructure in developing economies - specifically processing, storage and transport - in order to reduce wastage at the farm gate.

In advanced economies, food wastage should be taxed, but again this is antithetical to profit-driven agribusiness, which relies on more to be sold, and at any cost, with wastage built into the business model.

Eric Stryson, director, Global Institute for Tomorrow


Registration fee is needed for signs

I fully support Wouter van Marle's logical suggestion to license all signs that protrude into the public domain above roads and pavements and are attached to the external surfaces of buildings. ("Dangerous signs costly to taxpayers", November 1).

However, I would go further and charge an annual registration fee based on the size of these signs.

These signs are for a commercial purpose and use the public asset of airspace for free. They attempt to bombard our visual senses, so based on the user-pays principle of taxation, these thousands of signs could provide a valuable and stable source of public revenue.

However, I expect Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah will turn a blind eye to this suggestion as the influential property tycoons display the latest signs on their own buildings.

J. F. Kay, Lai Chi Kok


Hongkongers do not offer seats to elderly

Chris Embery was justified in his criticism of the appalling lack of manners and respect for the elderly shown by Hongkongers using the MTR ("Disgraceful 'me, me, me' attitude in HK", October 29), but he is wrong to blame mainlanders.

In my late 70s, I lived for two years in Shanghai, where it was very rare for me not to be offered a seat on the city's metro.

Similarly, during recent, extensive use of the Shenzhen metro, I have never been left standing in a crowded train.

Not so in Hong Kong, where it is very rare for someone to offer me their seat.

While there are some exceptions, Hongkongers, it would seem, are totally self-centred and preoccupied with their eternal quest of making money. Sadly, good manners and respect for the elderly and infirm have gone out of the window.

Les Cox, Lantau


More houses will damage marine park

In the recently gazetted outline zoning plan for Hoi Ha in Sai Kung Country Park, the Town Planning Board enlarged the existing village environ (V zone) by a considerable margin to accommodate 60 to 90 new houses.

The board has also provided additional land, disguised in an adjacent greenbelt zone, for even more housing construction in the future. To put this in perspective, only 32 houses have been built in Hoi Ha village during the past 100 years.

Why, then, did the board propose such a large property development plan in one of the most remote yet beautiful areas of Hong Kong?

This housing development plan has been done under another guise - the small-house policy, the intent of which was to allow eligible indigenous villagers to build their village houses on their agricultural land for their own use. The reality in Hoi Ha is that the agricultural land in the enlarged V zone has been sold to developers, who will likely start to build 60 to 90 luxury villas, not traditional village houses, once the consultation period for the zoning plan expires.

This manipulated plan deviates quite significantly from the original intent of the small-house policy.

Hoi Ha Wan's location, being a site of special scientific interest and a marine park, argues strongly against any form of development.

Because of its remoteness, Hoi Ha village is not connected to a sewage treatment system. Sewage and grey water which contains human waste, bleach, detergents and chemicals flows into septic tanks and subsequently seeps into underground water, which eventually ends up in the marine park's waters.

This will raise the E. coli levels, impacting marine life including corals in coming years.

The memo attached to the Water Pollution Control Ordinance Cap 358 forbids putting septic tanks within 100 metres of any waters within a site of special scientific interest. The location of part of the V zone in Hoi Ha proposed in the zoning plan violates the ordinance.

Why is the government so gung-ho in promoting property development here and in other parts of our country parks?

Thomas H. Hou, Sai Kung


It would be wrong to raise retirement age

There is no dispute that there are shortages in Hong Kong's workforce because of a lack of young people to take up available jobs in some sectors.

Because of this, it has been suggested that the government should raise the retirement age in the disciplined services from 55 to 60.

However, I do not think this will be a good idea.

Adopting this option would not be fair to younger civil servants. Quite a number of civil servants who are in their 50s occupy high-ranking positions. If the retirement age is extended by five years and many of them decide to stay on, the release date of these senior positions will be delayed, narrowing the options for the younger generation of civil servants and undermining their promotion prospects.

Younger civil servants work around the clock to serve the community. They may have to wait for some time to get the promotion they deserve and it is not fair that such a wait could be extended by the introduction of the new rule.

Furthermore, I cannot see how raising the retirement age will ultimately solve the labour shortage problem.

The shortage is caused by Hong Kong's falling birth rate.

Workforce shortages will not be solved simply by allowing some civil servants to work for a further five years; it will just delay their departure from the disciplined services and the shortage will remain.

William Chan, Sha Tin


Rejection of HKTV bid bad for economy

I do not think the decision not to give Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) a free-to-air TV licence will be good for Hong Kong's economy.

Firms interested in investing here may be more reluctant, given that HKTV's chairman, Ricky Wong Wai-kay, spent a substantial sum of money on his licence bid only to have it rejected.

In effect, it was money wasted and firms will recognise this.

It has also damaged the government, as it will not give a clear explanation as to why the Executive Council turned down the application. This undermines the government's authority.

It also means that relations between the government and the public have deteriorated even further, resulting in more demonstrations and rallies.

In the long term, this will not be good for Hong Kong.

I think the government should recognise that there is a problem connected with the free-to-air licences and it should deal with this problem as soon as possible.

We must defend our core values so that we can continue to have a stable and prosperous society.

Fong Chun-ho, Diamond Hill