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LCQ16: Food Surveillance Programme

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (June 8):


     The media uncovered earlier that a number of large supermarket chains mixed pork into beef for sale as beef; as the price of beef is higher, supermarkets can reap huge profits, but the commodities do not meet their descriptions and they have neglected public health and food quality.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) in the past five years, whether the Government had carried out sample tests on minced beef sold at supermarkets or chain stores to ascertain whether there was adulteration of pork; if it had, of the number of cases identified and which supermarkets or chain stores were involved; if not, whether it became aware of the situation only after it was uncovered by the media;

(b) whether, under the existing legislation, the adulteration of pork in beef for sale as beef is in breach of any legislation; if so, of the legislation breached and the relevant penalty; and after the media uncovered the aforesaid cases, whether the Government has immediately taken law enforcement actions; if it has, of the details, including the actions taken, at which and how many supermarket chains it has conducted spot checks, and of the results; if not, whether the relevant government departments have assessed the seriousness of the problem;

(c) whether it knows if, in general, the health of members of the public will be affected after they have consumed beef adulterated with pork; and

(d) of the government departments to which members of the public may lodge complaints if they find that there is again adulteration of pork or other meat in minced beef sold by supermarkets or chain stores; upon receipt of the complaints, whether the Government will immediately send staff to collect evidence on the spot?



(a) The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) adopts the risk analysis framework promulgated by international food safety authorities in regulating food safety, under which hazards associated with food or food ingredients are evaluated and potential risk to the population is assessed, facilitating the formulation of an appropriate Food Surveillance Programme.  The Food Surveillance Programme is designed to control and prevent food hazards in order to ensure that food sold in Hong Kong is safe and fit for consumption to protect public health.

     Under the Food Surveillance Programme, officers of the CFS take samples of food items at import, wholesale and retail levels for microbiological and chemical testing for the purpose of assessing food risks.  Microbiological testing covers bacteria and viruses, while chemical testing includes food additives, contaminants and other harmful residues, and toxins.

     Since the regular food surveillance programme focuses on risk and food safety, testing of minced beef for trace of pork has not been included in the programme in the past five years.  The CFS has started investigation into the alleged cases in which pork was mixed into minced beef in an attempt to deceive consumers.  The CFS will make an assessment after receiving the test result and take further action as appropriate.

     Subsequent to earlier media reports that several supermarket chains were suspected to have sold beef mixed with pork, the CFS immediately sent officers to major supermarket chains to follow up and took three minced beef samples for testing.  One sample was found containing no trace of pork while the testing for the other two are still under way.  Since the media report of the sale of pork as beef in the Mainland in mid April this year, the CFS has received 26 complaints involving the sale of pork as beef.  FEHD's investigation officers have taken appropriate follow-up actions and collected alleged beef samples for testing by the Government Laboratory (GL).  The test results of 15 samples show that the complaints are unsubstantiated while the testing for the remaining samples are still under way.

     The Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) also adopts a risk assessment approach and conducts targeted checks and investigations in the light of the assessed risk, severity of the matters in question and market conditions.  This approach has taken account of the sheer number of goods available for sale in the market.  Based on its complaint trends and analysis of previous investigations, the C&ED considers that there was no evidence showing that the problem of traders selling beef mixed with pork as pure beef was serious.  Hence, the C&ED has not conducted targeted investigation in this aspect in the past five years.  After the subject incident came to light, the C&ED has conducted inspection of supermarkets and frozen meat shops across the territory.  Five specimens of packaged minced beef have been collected from five supermarket chains and forwarded to the GL for testing.  The testing are still under way.

(b) Under section 52(1) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), if any person sells to the prejudice of a purchaser any food which is not of the nature, or not of the substance, or not of the quality, of the food demanded by the purchaser, he shall be guilty of an offence and the maximum penalty is a fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for three months.  Under section 61(1) of the same Ordinance, if any person falsely describes the food or misleads as to the nature of the food on a label of the food sold by him, he shall be guilty of an offence and the maximum penalty is a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

     Section 4A of the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap. 132W) stipulates that prepackaged food shall be marked and labelled in the manner prescribed in Schedule 3.  The food name or designation so marked and labelled shall not be false, misleading or deceptive in any respect as to the nature of the food.  The maximum penalty for contravention is a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

     The Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Cap.362) prohibits any person from applying false trade descriptions to any goods (including those of the "composition" of goods) in the course of business.  Offenders are liable to a fine at Level Six (presently at $100,000) and imprisonment for two years on summary conviction, and fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years on conviction on indictment.

     As mentioned in my reply in part (a) above, the FEHD and the C&ED have deployed officers to conduct inspection and collected food samples for testing by the GL immediately after the reports of the alleged cases.

(c) Generally speaking, minced beef mixed with pork does not increase the food risk.  However, all meat should be cooked thoroughly before consumption to safeguard health.

(d) Members of the public who have suspicions about shops selling minced beef mixed with pork or other meat may file a report by calling the Government 1823 Call Centre, the Customs Hotline (2545 6182) or the FEHD Hotline (2868 0000).  Members of the public may also contact any District Environmental Hygiene Office of the FEHD by telephone or in person during office hours.  Upon receiving the complaints from the public, the relevant departments will look into the cases and take follow-up actions as soon as possible.  

Ends/Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:45


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