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LCQ16: Pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables

     Following is a question by the Hon Fred Li and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Gabriel Leung, in the Legislative Council today (January 12):


     An environmental concern group recently took 18 samples of the vegetables and fruits on sale in local supermarkets for tests, and the result was that 38 different kinds of pesticide residues were detected in these samples, some of which even contained highly toxic pesticide residues.  The Government stated in its paper to this Council in November 2010 that it would enact legislation, and was "further refining the proposed regulatory framework for pesticide residues in food, and setting statutory maximum residue limits for different kinds of food involving about 400 pesticides".  The authorities also proposed to develop a list of "exempted substances".  In addition, under the Directive (2009/128/EC) of the European Union (EU) on establishing a framework for Community action to achieve the sustainable use of pesticides, individual Member States of the European Union are required to set quantitative objectives, specific measures and timetables accordingly to reduce risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the anticipated time for introducing the aforesaid bill into the Legislative Council for scrutiny;

(b) whether the authorities had studied in the past three years if the effects of mixed pesticide residues in vegetables and fruits which contain more than one type of pesticide residue would exceed the aggregation of the individual effects of such pesticide residues; if they had conducted such a study, of the outcome; how the Government will regulate the level of pesticide residues in vegetables and fruits which contain more than one type of pesticide residue;

(c) of the names of the 400 pesticides which the Government intends to regulate;  

(d) of the number of the types of the exempted substances to be proposed, together with a list of the names of such substances; and

(e) whether it will follow the approach of EU by requiring local registered vegetable farms and those on the Mainland which supply vegetables to Hong Kong to reduce using pesticides; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Government has always been concerned about the possible effects of pesticide residues in food to public health.   The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) regularly takes food samples, including fruits, vegetables and cereals at import, wholesale and retail levels to assess whether the pesticide residues are hazardous to human health.  To better protect public health, facilitate effective regulatory control and promote harmonisation between local and international standards, the Government proposes to introduce new legislation to regulate pesticide residues in food in Hong Kong.

     The responses to each part of the question are set out below:

(a) We will consult stakeholders and the public regarding our proposed regulatory framework and plan to introduce the relevant legislation into the Legislative Council (LegCo) towards the end of 2011.

(b) On the potential combined toxicity effects of more than one pesticide residues present in fruits and vegetables, international organisations including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are still exploring suitable scientific assessment methods.  At present, there is no consensus internationally.  However, the Joint FAO/WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues considered that the safety factors used for establishing acceptable daily intakes for pesticides have already provided a sufficient margin of safety to cope with the potential combined toxicity effects and protect public health.  These factors will be considered in establishing the residue limits for pesticides in the proposed new legislation.

     We will closely monitor the research development in this area.

(c) The list of pesticides for which residue limits will be established in the proposed new legislation was set out in the consultation document entitled "Proposed Regulatory Framework for Pesticide Residues in Food in Hong Kong" published in 2007 (see Annex).

     Prior to introducing the relevant legislation into the LegCo, the Government will update the proposed list of pesticides and residue limits, making reference to the latest standards adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), the Mainland and other major food supplying countries.  The number of pesticides to be regulated may then be adjusted.

(d) In order to encourage the use of natural pesticides by the trade, we propose to provide for a list of "exempted substances" in the regulatory framework.  An "exempted substance" must fall under the definition of pesticide laid down by the Codex and meet one of the following criteria:

(i) the use of the pesticides does not result in residues occurring in food;
(ii) the residues are identical to or indistinguishable from natural food components; or
(iii) the residues are of no toxicological significance or will not pose any public health risk.  

     Although a list of "exempted substances" is not available from the Codex, the CFS has taken the initiative in conducting researches and made reference to the lists adopted by our major food supplying countries.  On this basis, the CFS is preparing the proposed list of "exempted substances" in accordance with the above criteria.

(e) At present, in respect of local vegetable farms, since the introduction of the Local Vegetable Farms Registration Scheme in 2006, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has been educating local farmers on the proper and safe use of pesticides and providing them with guidance and technical assistance with a view to reducing the use of pesticides under this scheme.   The AFCD also actively encourages farmers to participate in the Accredited Farm Scheme and practise organic farming with a view to helping them produce, in a sustainable manner, vegetables and fruits which are safe and healthy for consumption.

     Regarding the registered vegetable farms in the Mainland, the existing requirement is that farms and production and processing establishments which supply vegetables to Hong Kong must be registered with the inspection and quarantine authorities in the Mainland.  In accordance with the Administrative Measures on Inspection, Quarantine and Supervision for Vegetables Supplied to Hong Kong and Macao, clear requirements on the registration conditions for vegetable farms have been laid down by the Mainland authorities and food safety management measures, including management and control of the use of pesticides and provision of testing capability of pesticide residues, must be implemented by dedicated departments or personnel.  Processing establishments must be equipped with instruments for testing pesticide residues, and must conduct testing on incoming raw materials.  The Mainland has also strengthened supervision and control at source in respect of vegetable farms and processing establishments which supply vegetables to Hong Kong by improving the product tracing system, introducing electronic monitoring and increasing penalties for non-compliance.

     The residue limits for pesticides in food in the proposed new legislation mentioned in part (a) above are based on the application of Good Agricultural Practice with a view to reducing the use of pesticides.   In applying pesticides approved by the relevant government authorities for effective pest control at any stage in the production, storage, transportation, distribution and processing of food and animal feed, efforts should be made to ensure that the level of pesticide residues is minimised.   If the proposed legislation is passed and comes into effect, all local farms and those registered in the Mainland which supply vegetables to Hong Kong are required to comply with the prescribed standards of pesticide residues.

Ends/Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:09


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