Commentary: It is now time to campaign for the "right to food" in Hong Kong
2022-04-12

According to the General Comment No. 12 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement”.  This powerful position reminds us that all people are entitled to be free from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition.

In general, the food/agricultural landscape of Hong Kong has limitations, due to its geographical nature; it is a densely populated urbanized area with high-rise skyscrapers. It has only seven square kilometers of land that is actively farmed. Agriculture mainly comprises vegetable farms, pig farms and poultries. For fisheries, it has a total of 1,131 hectares of fishponds in use for supply.

Hong Kong’s fifth wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) precipitated by the highly transmittable Omicron variant resulted in the collapse of  its food system within days. The exponential rise of infections and cases created panic buying and stockpiling at most supermarkets and food suppliers. I felt grieved while reading the news as I had never imagined my home city would  suffer an insecurity, inadequacy and inaccessibility of food.

I echo the United Nations Special Rapporteur Professor Michael Fakhri’s argument on  how  the “right to food” should be radical to transform food systems by making them resilient and sustainable. Framing the right to food this way illuminates the urgency of cities/countries, in Hong Kong and beyond, to embrace food dignity, security and solidarity through a structural change of both legal and social-political context. Food laws in Hong Kong focus more on food safety control measures and regulations, and waste management. [1]  They do not expand to fully realizing the right to food. Whilst the Government, from 2013, has promoted hydroponic farming as one of the strategies to sustain local fresh vegetables production, it is encouraged to step forward in initiating policies on seed protection for supporting local organic farming and crop varieties.

Further, the uneven food distribution has been a long-standing pressing issue in Hong Kong and the COVID-19 pandemic enlarged the gaps and disparities as a whole. Lower-income households are always suffering (i) inadequate food, (ii) malnutrition, (iii) hunger and starvation. Whilst temporary food bank and/or charitable organizations are the front-liners who provide “short-term” aids, the root cause has yet to be fully solved. Hence, a legal shift on “right to food” would foster, improve and reform the system by making food available, adequate and accessible, thereby aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1, 2, 3 and 11.

*Hermione Mok is an LLM student, also a student representative of 2021/22 Postgraduate Taught Masters Cohort of the School of Law at the University of Aberdeen, where she is taking a course on International Food Law (LS553Y). Hermione is curious about everything. She is determined to disseminate knowledge, create impact and develop innovation for shaping prosperous, energetic, liveable and sustainable cities.

[1]Part V of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132); Food Safety Ordinance (Cap. 612)

Published by School of Law, University of Aberdeen

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