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LCQ7: Food products imported from Japan

     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho Chun-yin and a written reply by the
Acting Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (February 19):


     It is reported that tens of American soldiers who participated in the earthquake relief efforts in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011 have collectively filed a lawsuit against the Tokyo Electric Power Company for concealing the truth about the serious leakage of nuclear radiation from a nuclear power plant there, which resulted in their developing cancers due to drinking and exposure to radiation-contaminated water. Moreover, the Japanese Government has recently found that in Fukushima Prefecture, a number of children have developed thyroid cancer, and the underground water has been contaminated by nuclear radiation. Members of the public are therefore worried that radiation-contaminated Japanese food products may be imported into Hong Kong. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the types, quantities, values and origins of the Japanese food products imported into Hong Kong in the past three years, as well as the respective percentages of the volumes of such food products imported in the total consumption of the same types of food products in Hong Kong; whether the authorities have assessed the impacts of a complete ban on Japanese food imports on local food supply should this be necessary due to radiation contamination problems, and whether they have formulated any contingency plan, including implementing measures to help the trade source food products from other regions;

(2) whether it will liaise with the Japanese authorities to find out if there is any correlation between the aforesaid children's cancers and the consumption of radiation-contaminated food; whether it will review immediately the adequacy of the equipment and manpower in Hong Kong for monitoring the radiation level of food products, step up radiation testing on Japanese food imports and study if it is necessary to extend the restrictions on the import of Japanese food products into Hong Kong; and

(3) whether it has plans to set up a food safety notification mechanism with the Japanese authorities to enhance the exchange of information, and stipulate under the mechanism that once excessive radioactive materials have been detected in food products or water sources for food production, or when it is suspected that any local resident has fallen ill due to the consumption of radiation-contaminated food, the Japanese authorities must notify the Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong immediately and forward to it the testing results concerned; if not, of the reasons for that?



     Since the nuclear power plant incident in Fukushima, Japan in March 2011, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has promptly adopted the Guideline Levels for Radionuclides in Foods Contaminated Following a Nuclear or Radiological Emergency (Guideline Levels) laid down by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) for testing the radiation levels of every consignment of food products imported from Japan to ensure food safety.  The relevant Guideline Levels are as follows:

iodine-131: 100 Bq/kg
caesium-134 and caesium-137: 1 000 Bq/kg

     According to Codex, food products with radionuclide levels not exceeding the relevant Guideline Levels are considered to be safe for human consumption. If food is found to contain radionuclides exceeding the Guideline Levels, CFS will immediately detain the consignment and arrange for disposal. CFS releases the testing summary of relevant food products imported from Japan on its website every day for reference by the public and the food trade.

     Such radiation testing, targeting Japanese food imports, has been maintained since then. As at February 18, 2014, CFS tested about 176 000 samples of food products from Japan, with most of the samples taken at import level. Among them, only three samples of vegetables imported from the Chiba prefecture shortly after the Fukushima nuclear incident were detected on March 23, 2011 with radioactive substances at levels exceeding the Guideline Levels, posing hazards to human health.  The three vegetables samples were disposed of and did not find their way into the local market.  

      After the radiation levels of the above three samples of vegetables were found to have exceeded the Guideline Levels, the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene issued an order on the following day (i.e. March 24, 2011) to prohibit the import of vegetables and fruits, milk, milk beverages and milk powder from the five most affected prefectures of Japan, namely Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba and Gunma. Apart from testing of radiation levels of every consignment of food products imported from Japan as mentioned above, CFS also prohibits the import of all chilled or frozen game, meat and poultry, all poultry eggs and all live, chilled or frozen aquatic products from the five prefectures to Hong Kong with effect from March 24, 2011, unless accompanied by a certificate issued by the competent authority of Japan certifying that the radiation levels do not exceed the Guideline Levels. The order remains in force today.

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

(1) According to the statistics provided by the Census and Statistics Department, Japanese fresh food products currently imported to Hong Kong mainly include meat, aquatic products, milk and dairy products, vegetables and fruits. The percentage of such food products in the total annual imports of the same types of food products for the period from 2011 to 2013 ranged from less than 1% to about 4% (see in Annex). CFS does not have any information about the values, origins and total consumption of the products.

     Food imports to Hong Kong come from many sources. Food products from around the world can be imported into Hong Kong for distribution according to market demand as long as they comply with food hygiene requirements. Consumers can choose from a wide variety of food products at varying prices.

     The Government is committed to ensuring an adequate and stable food supply. The above information shows that different types of Japanese food constituted only a small portion of Hong Kong's total imports and their effect on the overall food supply in Hong Kong would only be minimal.  

     The Government encourages the trade to explore new sources of food supply, build up networks of food suppliers across the world and diversify food types. After the Fukushima nuclear incident, we contacted the trade for more information on food supply to Hong Kong and learned that the trade had identified new sources of supply, including countries and regions other than Japan. We will continue to keep a close watch on food supply and the market, and maintain close liaison with the trade in order to take appropriate actions accordingly.

(2) and (3) To keep abreast of the latest development of the Fukushima nuclear incident, the Special Administrative Region Government will send a delegation to attend the International Experts' Meeting on Radiation Protection after the Fukushima Daiichi Accident to be held by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in late February 2014.  The meeting covers topics such as the latest development of the Fukushima nuclear incident and the impact of the incident on food safety and human health.

     To prevent and control any acute food safety problems, CFS closely monitors local, Mainland and overseas food incidents (including those occurred in Japan) on a daily basis. Once a food incident is identified, CFS will assess the impact of the incident on public health before deciding on the most suitable follow-up actions, which may include contacting the relevant authorities for more information, issuing rapid alert messages to the trade, conducting inspections to see whether the food product in question is available on the local market, taking samples for testing and issuing press releases. If justified, the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene may also consider making an order under the Food Safety Ordinance (Cap. 612) to prohibit the import of the food concerned or direct that the food be recalled, with a view to ensuring food safety and safeguarding public health.

     In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear incident, CFS has maintained effective communication with the Japanese food regulatory authority concerned (i.e. Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF)). Regarding coverage by certain media on food contamination resulting from radiation leak at Fukushima nuclear power plant, CFS has approached MAFF for more information.

     Meanwhile, the Japanese authority concerned releases the findings of radiation testing reports regularly after the incident. Individual prefectures affected by the Fukushima nuclear incident also report to CFS the results of radiation testing on their food products and water sources. CFS can therefore keep abreast of the latest development in a timely manner.  

     At present, CFS has sufficient manpower and equipment to monitor the radiation level of food products imported from Japan. The above-mentioned testing measures have been effective and are subject to adjustments according to the latest situation.  CFS will continue with its current strategy of surveillance on the radiation level of every consignment of food products imported from Japan, and stay alert to the situation of the Fukushima nuclear power plant and the findings of relevant reports. CFS will also adopt a risk-based approach in collecting samples for radiation testing, with reference to the test results of the Japanese authority and Hong Kong.

     CFS will also keep track of the development of the incident and the latest measures taken by other countries/places against food products imported from Japan. In the meantime, CFS will keep in view and refer to the recommendations made by international agencies including the World Health Organization and the IAEA on the issue, for developing our strategies for testing relevant food products and adjusting the surveillance measures on Japanese food imports in time to ensure food safety and protect public health.

Ends/Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Issued at HKT 18:10


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