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LCQ18: Vegetables supplied by the Mainland to Hong Kong

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Sing-chi and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (May 16):


     It has been learnt that over 520 registered vegetable farms on the Mainland, which are regulated by mainland inspection and quarantine authorities, supply vegetables to Hong Kong (Mainland vegetable farms).  Moreover, since the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Vegetable Marketing Organization jointly launched the Accredited Farm Scheme (the Scheme) in 1994, over 250 local farms and 37 farms on the Mainland have been accredited under the Scheme (accredited farms).  Regarding the monitoring of such farms and the use of pesticides, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the current number of Mainland vegetable farms and Mainland accredited farms inspected by the authorities each year and the items inspected;

(b) whether the inspectors are required to submit inspection reports; if so, whether the authorities publish such reports; if so, where the public can have access to and peruse those reports; if the reports are not published, of the reasons for that;

(c) whether the authorities have a list of pesticides against which the vegetables produced by the Mainland vegetable farms are checked; if so, of the names of the pesticides on the list;

(d) whether there is a list of suggested pesticides or prohibited pesticides under the Scheme; whether vegetable farms which are both Mainland vegetable farms and accredited farms should follow Hong Kong's regulations and policies on the use of pesticides or those of the local government; and

(e) given that Hong Kong will soon implement legislation on the regulation of pesticide residues on food, whether the authorities will set the target for reduction in the amount of pesticides (pesticide reduction) and work with the relevant Mainland authorities to carry out the initiatives for pesticide reduction at source and encourage operators of Mainland vegetable farms to reduce the use of pesticides; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Government is committed to enhancing food safety through a multi-pronged approach.  It adopts the "from farm to table" strategy to safeguard public health by ensuring that food consumed by the public meets safety standards.  This includes not only surveillance at the import, wholesale and retail levels, but also proper control at source.  In 2011, 21 700 samples of vegetables and fruits were tested by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) with a satisfaction rate of over 99%.  As the Mainland is a major supplier of food to Hong Kong, we have maintained close liaison with the State General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the respective entry-exit inspection and quarantine bureaux.  We also conduct inspections of registered vegetable farms for exportation to Hong Kong on the Mainland regularly to ensure that agricultural products supplied to Hong Kong are wholesome and safe at source.

     My reply to the different parts of the question is as follows:

(a) The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department conducted inspections of 20, 16 and 20 registered vegetable farms for exportation to Hong Kong on the Mainland respectively in 2009, 2010 and 2011.  The scope of inspection mainly covers crop production, the application and storage of pesticides and fertilizers, the environment of vegetable farms, field management, water supplies and quality of soil, testing of produce and management of farms.

     The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and the Vegetable Marketing Organization (VMO) have jointly run the Accredited Farm Scheme (the Scheme).  The Scheme aims at promoting the adoption of good horticultural practice and environmentally friendly production.  Integrated pest management and the proper and safe use of pesticides are emphasised.  Produce of the farms are subjected to regular testing to ensure production of quality vegetables that are safe for consumption, so as to safeguard public health.  So far 259 local farms and 37 farms on the Mainland have been accredited under the Scheme.

     Regarding accredited farms on the Mainland, VMO and the Federation of Vegetable Marketing Co-operative Societies Limited, with the technical support from AFCD, inspect all 37 accredited farms on the Mainland regularly every year.  Inspection items include horticultural practice of farms as well as the records of storage and usage of pesticides.  In addition, VMO regularly commissions independent auditors to review the performance of the farms concerned.

(b) Inspectors are required to submit an inspection report for each visit made.  As these reports touch upon business information of the farms concerned, they are not published for public consumption.

(c) The risk-based Food Surveillance Programme carried out by CFS each year is drawn up after being scrutinised by the Expert Committee on Food Safety and having regard to the views of experts and stakeholders.

     Currently, the types of pesticides commonly tested by CFS under the Food Surveillance Programme include organophosphorus pesticides, organochlorine pesticides, pyrethroids, carbamates, etc.  As regards accredited farms on the Mainland, the vegetable samples collected from these farms will be sent to VMO for testing of the same types of pesticides as those under the Food Surveillance Programme.  The scope and frequency of testing conducted by VMO and CFS will be appropriately adjusted taking into account test results, food incidents around the world, the development and information of the Mainland agricultural sector, etc.

(d) Accredited farms on the Mainland are operated in accordance with the regulations and policies of relevant Mainland authorities.  Pesticides used must be those which are registered by the Ministry of Agriculture.  Produce which have been imported into Hong Kong will be regulated by relevant local legislation on food safety.

(e) In enacting legislation to regulate pesticide residues in food, the Government has specified in the Schedule of the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation a list of maximum residue limits (MRLs) /extraneous maximum residue limits (EMRLs), i.e. the maximum concentration of specified pesticide residues permitted in specified food commodities.  The MRLs / EMRLs in the Schedule are based primarily on the available standards recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, supplemented by related standards of the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong, and taking into consideration the opinions received during the public consultation period.  In setting the above standards, the Government has further scrutinised these standards by conducting risk assessment based on local food consumption patterns to ensure that they are adequate to protect public health in Hong Kong.

     The MRLs are established by evaluating pesticide residue data in food commodities, provided that pesticide is applied properly.  When applying a pesticide, farmers must strictly observe the instructions printed on its label, including the authorised type of food commodities to which the pesticide could be applied, the recommended application rates, frequencies and amount, as well as the duration required between the last application of the pesticide and harvest, etc.  The amount of the pesticide applied should also be limited to the lowest possible level necessary to accomplish its desired effect (i.e. for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating pests) while ensuring the pesticide residue in food is reduced to the lowest level.  In this respect, the promotion of reduction of pesticide at source has already been part of our daily work.

     However, due to the variability of combined effects arising from the nature of crops, climates, pests, and other biological and non-biological factors, it is not scientific or realistic to set a target for pesticide reduction.

Ends/Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Issued at HKT 13:22


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