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LCQ11: Illegal import of meat and poultry

     Following is a question by the Hon Vincent Fang and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Gabriel Leung, in the Legislative Council today (July 13):


     I have received complaints from the industry about the increasingly serious situation of people purchasing products or foods (including vegetables, fruits, eggs and meat that are subject to respective export and import controls on the Mainland and in Hong Kong) on the Mainland and then bringing them back, by adopting the "ants moving home" tactics, to Hong Kong for sale.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council :

(a)  of the respective daily average numbers of Hong Kong residents and mainland visitors under the Individual Visit Scheme crossing the boundary via various control points in Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the past 12 months, as well as the percentage changes in each month; whether statistics have been compiled on the respective numbers of people entering the territory twice a day or more; whether the authorities will inspect one by one the items carried by those persons who enter the territory twice a day or more;

(b)  of the measures adopted by the staff at boundary control points to check whether persons entering the territory bring in items which are subject to import control (including endangered species, uncooked meat, birds and vegetables, and eggs, etc.); of the number of persons found by staff at boundary control points to have brought such items into the territory last year; of the types, quantities and weights of the items involved; whether the authorities had instituted prosecution against or given warnings to these persons, and how the seized items were disposed of; how the authorities verified claims that such items which are subject to import control were brought into the territory only for personal consumption; whether follow-up actions would be taken to find out if these persons had subsequently put the items on sale; whether they have any plan to regulate the bringing into the territory by visitors items which are subject to import control in Hong Kong; and

(c)  given that quite a number of members of the public of Hong Kong have complained that the areas adjacent to MTR stations are often occupied for use as distribution points for the aforesaid items, thus creating serious environmental hygiene problems, of the measures the authorities have in place to deal with the situation?



     Since Hong Kong imports over 90% of its food, the Government is committed to enhancing the safety of imported food to protect public health.  The import of game, meat and poultry is regulated under existing legislation.  Under the Imported Game, Meat and Poultry Regulations (Cap. 132AK), no person shall import meat or poultry without an official health certificate which certifies that the meat or poultry concerned is fit for human consumption, unless a prior written permission from the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (DFEH) is granted.  No person shall import game or prohibited meat (Note 1) except with a written permission and subject to such conditions as the DFEH may impose.  In addition, under the Import and Export Ordinance (Cap. 60), an import licence from the DFEH is required for importing meat or poultry.

     The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) collects about 65 000 food samples for testing at import, wholesale and retail level every year.  Last year, the overall satisfactory rate of the food tested under the Food Surveillance Programme was 99.7%, reflecting that food safety in Hong Kong is maintained at a high level.  CFS will take enforcement action if any food is found and confirmed to be unfit for human consumption in food surveillance.  Under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), any person who sells any food unfit for human consumption shall be liable to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

     The Food Safety Ordinance (Cap.612), which will commence on August 1, 2011, introduces the food traceability mechanism.  It complements CFS' existing Food Surveillance Programme and will further enhance food safety by protecting the whole food supply chain.

     According to the Food Safety Ordinance, any person who carries on a business which brings any food into Hong Kong (including any person who brings food from the Mainland into Hong Kong for sale with the "ants moving home" tactics) is required to register with DFEH.  Since those who import food from unknown sources usually would not register under the law, they are liable to the offence of importing food without complying with the registration requirements.

     The Food Safety Ordinance also stipulates that DFEH must keep a register of food importers and food distributors for public inspection.  The public may therefore inspect the register at any time to find out the status of their trading partners to avoid purchasing food from unknown sources, thus protecting consumers and food traders.

     In addition, food importers and food distributors must also comply with the record-keeping requirement as required under the Food Safety Ordinance (retailers are required to keep food acquisition records only).  Any person whose transaction records do not dovetail commits an offence.  As the records of sellers of food from unknown sources would unlikely dovetail with each other, the food traders concerned may commit an offence.

     The Food Safety Ordinance also empowers the Secretary for Food and Health to make regulations for import control on specific food types, with a view to strengthening the control on food with higher risks.  We propose that the import control be extended to cover poultry eggs and aquatic products.  The proposal on the regulation of poultry eggs has been submitted to the Legislative Council Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene in May this year.

     In view of the above, it is therefore clear that the whole food supply chain is under comprehensive surveillance in the existing food safety framework, which includes effective measures targeting food products from unknown sources, thus protecting public health.  My reply to the different parts of the question is as follows:

(a)  According to the information provided by the Security Bureau, in the 12 months from July 2010 to June 2011, the respective daily average numbers of Hong Kong residents and Mainland visitors under the Individual Visit Scheme crossing the boundary via various control points in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, as well as the percentage changes in each month are set out in Annex.  The Administration does not compile statistics on the number of people entering and departing from Hong Kong for multiple times within the same day.

(b)  To interdict illegal import of controlled items by travellers, the Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) applies the risk management intelligence-based principle in inspecting travellers and their baggages with the assistance of advanced equipment.  In addition, C&ED works closely with other law enforcement departments, such as the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) in mounting joint operations to inspect travellers and their baggages, with a view to combating illegal import of controlled items at various control points.  Random inspections on travellers are conducted by FEHD with the assistance of detector dogs to combat illegal import of meat and poultry.  FEHD also distributes leaflets and displays relevant posters at the halls of various control points to remind travellers to abide by the law.

     According to C&ED, the categories, quantities or weight of controlled items, including endangered species, uncooked meat and live animals and birds seized in the past 12 months at various control points are as follows:

Category                Quantity/Weight
Endangered species      637 pieces
Uncooked meat           6 847 kilogrammes
Live animals and birds  36 live animals and birds

     Upon detecting illegal import of the above controlled items by travellers into Hong Kong, Customs officers will immediately hand over the cases and the seizures to the relevant departments for follow-up actions.  Over the past 12 months, FEHD prosecuted 1 491 travellers for bringing in game, meat or poultry illegally at the various control points in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and destroyed the food concerned.  In the same period, the AFCD also prosecuted 63 persons who illegally imported endangered species and forfeited the items concerned in accordance with the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap. 586).

     Under the existing legislation, control has already been imposed on the import of controlled items into Hong Kong by travellers. Under Section 6(1)(ca) of the Import and Export (General) Regulations (Cap. 60A), the conditions for articles exempted from application for import licence for controlled food products (namely, meat and poultry) are as follows:

(i)  imported in the accompanied personal baggage of a person entering Hong Kong;
(ii) for the personal use of that person or is a gift;
(iii) in an amount not exceeding 15 kg; and
(iv)  accompanied by an official certificate as defined in the Imported Game, Meat and Poultry Regulations.

     As such, travellers will not be exempted from application for import licence by solely claiming that the food brought in is for personal consumption.

(c) FEHD has stepped up street cleansing services as well as law enforcement action at the public place outside the Sheung Shui Mass Transit Railway (MTR) Station.  If an article placed at public places causes obstruction to scavenging operations, FEHD will serve upon the owner a "Notice to Remove Obstruction" in accordance with the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance requiring removal of the article within a period specified in the notice, failing which FEHD will take prosecution action.  For any person who litters, contravening the Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness Offences) Ordinance (Cap. 570), FEHD will issue a $1,500 Fixed Penalty Notice to the offender.  During the first half of 2011, a total of 129 Fixed Penalty Notices have been issued at the public place outside the Sheung Shui MTR station.

Note 1:
Prohibited meat means any kinds of meat listed below:
(a)  Scrap meat, that is to say, meat which consists of scraps, trimmings or other pieces (whether with or without bone) of such shape or in such condition as to afford insufficient means of identification with a definite part of a carcass.
(b)  Meat comprising the wall of the thorax or abdomen from which there has been detached any part of the pleura or (save in the case of meat derived from a pig) the peritoneum, other than a part necessarily removed in preparing the meat.
(c)  Meat, other than mutton and lamb, from which a lymphatic gland, except a gland necessarily removed in preparing the meat, has been taken out.
(d)  The head of an animal without the submaxillary gland.

Ends/Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Issued at HKT 19:30


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