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LCQ6: Regulation of pesticides

     Following is a question by the Hon Albert Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (November 16):


     Residents of Mui Wo and Lamma Island have sought assistance from me recently, pointing out that pesticides (commonly known as agricultural pesticides) such as Paraquat, etc. may adversely affect the health of residents and dogs.  Some residents have pointed out that quite a number of people sprayed toxic pesticides in the vicinity of kindergartens, primary schools and residential areas in the past few years, and they are worried that such pesticides may pose health hazard to them, especially young children.  Worse still, at least 10 dogs were killed in September this year after coming into contact with Paraquat.  Among them, some were killed after eating baits poisoned with Paraquat, while some were poisoned to death after only touching plants sprayed with Paraquat.  As far as I know, this problem is also found in quite a number of districts in Hong Kong.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the respective numbers of dogs poisoned to death in each of the past three years; among these cases, of the number of those in which dogs were killed after taking in or coming into contact with Paraquat; and the channels through which they came into contact with it;

(b) whether the authorities have assessed how the spraying of pesticides such as Paraquat, etc. in the vicinity of residential areas, kindergartens and primary schools will adversely affect the health of residents, especially young children; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) given that I have learnt that developed countries such as Finland, Sweden and Austria, etc. have prohibited the use of Paraquat, whether the authorities will consider stepping up the regulation of pesticides, including banning the sale of highly toxic pesticides such as Paraquat, etc. and restricting their use by licensed persons only; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Administration attaches importance to the safe and proper use of pesticides.  At present, the import, manufacture, sale and supply of pesticides in Hong Kong are regulated by the Pesticides Ordinance (Cap.133).  The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) is responsible for enforcing the relevant provisions.  All pesticides for sale in Hong Kong must be registered with the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation (DAFC).

     DAFC would only register pesticides categorised as slightly or moderately hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and would impose restrictions on the formulation and concentration of the pesticides for retail sale.   Pesticides categorised as extremely hazardous by WHO are not allowed to be registered.  AFCD regularly reviews all the registered pesticides, taking into account the impact posed to the environment and human beings.    

     Apart from the registration system, DAFC also exercises strict control on pesticides through a licence and permit system under Cap.133.   

     For registered pesticides, under section 7(1) of Cap.133, except with a licence issued by DAFC, no person shall import, manufacture, sell or supply such pesticides.    As regards unregistered pesticides, a person shall apply for a permit from DAFC under section 9 of Cap.133 before he could import, manufacture, sell, supply or have in his possession such pesticides.

     In assessing an application for a permit, AFCD would take into account various factors including the danger and mode of use of the pesticide concerned.   If the application is approved, AFCD may impose conditions to strictly regulate the use of the pesticide to ensure the safety of users and the public.

     My replies to each part of the question are as follows:

(a) From 2009 to October 2011, the Police had referred 32 cases of dogs suspected to be poisoned to death, involving a total of 64 dogs, to AFCD. None was related to Paraquat.  Details are at the Annex.

     The Police did not receive any cases of dogs suspected to be poisoned to death in Mui Wo in September and October this year.  Separately, the Police is investigating the death of a dog in Lamma Island in September.  The dog owner concerned suspected that her dog was poisoned to death.  In order to find out the cause of the death, the Police has sent samples to the Government Laboratory for toxicological tests. The test results confirm that the samples contain no Paraquat or any other common drugs and poisons.  During the above investigation, the Police discovered that there were eight other dogs in Lamma Island which died in September and had started investigation.  However, as the carcasses concerned had been disposed of by the respective dog owners, the Police was unable to take samples for further testing.

(b) All pesticides registered in Hong Kong are safe if they are used in accordance with the instructions on the labels.  Paraquat, which is categorised as moderately hazardous by WHO, is a registered pesticide in Hong Kong.  To ensure safety of the public including users and persons nearby, AFCD has imposed restrictions on the concentration and formulation of the pesticide when approving its registration.  Paraquat must be diluted before use.  The toxicity of Paraquat will decrease significantly after dilution.

     Moreover, when approving the registration of Paraquat, AFCD has stipulated that a stinking agent, a colourant and an emetic have to be added in order to prevent accidental intake.  The stinking agent is added so that the pesticide will emit a strong odour to serve as a warning; the colourant is added to give the pesticide a strange colour to distinguish it from drinks; and the emetic is added to induce vomiting and discharging from the body in case the pesticide has been taken accidentally.  

     AFCD has spared no effort in educating the public on the safe and proper use of pesticides.  To remind users on the importance of safety measures, appropriate instructions have been put on the labels of all pesticides including Paraquat.    In general, if the pesticide is used in accordance with the instructions on the label, it should be safe.  That said, we would remind adults to look after children under their care to avoid contact with areas that have been treated with pesticides.  In the event of contacting Paraquat-tainted vegetation accidentally, washing with clean water will suffice.

(c) Paraquat is a fast acting and effective herbicide.  It plays a major role in local agriculture, land management and mosquito control.  At present, more than a hundred countries in the world still allow the use of Paraquat, including most of the tropical and subtropical countries and some developed countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan, Singapore and the Mainland, etc.   

     To ensure the safety of users and the public, AFCD will continue to closely monitor regulation of pesticides in the international arena, and will conduct regular reviews on all registered pesticides including Paraquat.  

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:35


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