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LCQ18: Inspection of live pigs
     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (May 17):


     Since 2007, the authorities have implemented new surveillance measures in respect of live pigs for slaughter (the 2007 new surveillance measures), under which urine samples are collected from live pigs for conducting rapid tests on veterinary drug residues, and before the test results are available, pig buying agents are allowed to bid for the pigs and transfer the pigs to waiting/holding lairages for slaughtering. In early August 2016, when 40 pigs were detected to have residues of veterinary drug beta-agonists (Salbutamol) (commonly known as "asthma drug"), they had already been slaughtered and released to the market. Although the authorities had implemented improvement measures after the incident (the 2016 improvement measures), some farmers are still worried that the improvement measures cannot ensure food safety and protect the rights and interests of pig buying agents. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the detailed process of veterinary drug residues testing, auctioning and slaughtering of live pigs during the following three periods of time (set out in a table):

(i) before the implementation of the 2007 new surveillance measures,
(ii) after the implementation of the 2007 new surveillance measures and before the implementation of the 2016 improvement measures, and
(iii) since the implementation of the 2016 improvement measures;

(2) of the number of cases in which urine samples of live pigs failed to pass the veterinary drug residues test since the introduction of the test in 2001; among them, the respective numbers of cases in which (i) the places of origin of the problematic live pigs were identified, (ii) the persons concerned were prosecuted, and (iii) the persons concerned were convicted, and the penalties imposed on them in general;

(3) as some farmers have pointed out that quite a number of problems are found in the existing system (including: (i) since live pigs are auctioned and mixed together in waiting lairages before the results of the veterinary drug residues test of their urine samples are available, such test results may not be admitted as evidence in the relevant prosecutions, and (ii) when some urine samples of live pigs fail to pass the veterinary drug residues test, the slaughter or retail processes concerned have to be suspended to wait for the authorities to contact hundreds of stakeholders and screen out the problematic pigs or their carcasses from several thousand pigs, resulting in considerable delays in the supply of live pigs), how the authorities will enhance the existing system to protect the rights and interests of pig buying agents and the public as well as reducing the impact on various parties when problems arise; and

(4) as some retailers have pointed out that in the aforesaid incident in August last year, the authorities announced a list of 27 retail outlets involved right after learning about the test results, but 16 retail outlets of which were subsequently found to be unrelated to the selling of any products of the problematic pigs, whether the authorities have learnt a lesson and will ensure the accuracy of the information released so as to prevent innocent retailers from suffering losses; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     My reply to the question raised by the Hon Steven Ho is as follows:

(1) The Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Chemical Residues) Regulation (Cap 139N) (the Regulation) came into force on December 31, 2001. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) is responsible for the inspection of live pigs admitted to the slaughterhouses in Hong Kong with regard to residues of the agricultural chemicals and veterinary drugs prohibited and restricted under the Regulation. Urine samples are collected by FEHD from each and every consignment of live pigs entering the slaughterhouses for testing by the veterinary laboratory of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. Pigs with urine samples tested negative will be despatched for slaughtering at the slaughter line. To ensure food safety, post-mortem inspection of slaughtered pigs will be carried out by FEHD staff to ensure the carcasses and offal are fit for human consumption before they are released to the market. The above procedures for inspection and slaughtering of live pigs have been implemented since the Regulation came into operation, and have not been amended over those periods specified in the question.

     Live pig auction is a commercial operation of the trade. In 2007, the trade changed the arrangement for auctioning live pigs, from holding auctions on the following day after the pigs' arrival, to the very day of arrival. Such a change was initiated by relevant stakeholders of the trade, including live pig importers, agents, buyers, slaughterhouse operators, etc, without affecting FEHD's procedures for inspection and slaughtering of live pigs.

(2) Since implementation of the Regulation and up to April 30, 2017, there were a total of 64 cases of pig urine samples tested positive, and the place of origin of all implicated pigs could be identified. Prosecutions were initiated in respect of 13 of these cases, of which all were successfully convicted with a fine ranged from $2,000 to $10,000.

(3) FEHD has all along maintained close liaison with the trade to ensure smooth operation of the slaughterhouses. Some members of the trade had suggested postponing pig auctions until after test results of urine samples were available. The suggestion was conveyed by FEHD to the trade as live pig auction is the trade's commercial operation. Representatives of the trade, including importers, buyers, merchants' associations and slaughterhouse operators, were of the view that the existing arrangements had been in place for long and proven to be conducive to the trade's operation, without affecting the surveillance work undertaken by FEHD in safeguarding food safety. They did not support the suggestion as postponing auctions would substantially affect their workflow and increase operating costs.
     To further strengthen food safety supervision, FEHD conducted last year an in-depth review on the slaughterhouse operation and system and introduced a series of improvement measures. This includes striving to complete the daily urine testing procedures earlier to allow sufficient time for the trade to take follow-up actions in case of positive test results, with a view to ensuring that timely identification and isolation of all implicated pigs can be carried out as necessary before the slaughter line commences operation. FEHD will continue to maintain close liaison with various stakeholders of the trade and review the implementation of the measures from time to time.

(4) In that incident, FEHD apologised to the affected retailers and provided a one-off ex-gratia payment of about $300,000 in total to cover the financial loss to the relevant retailers as a result of the disposal of the pork and offal. Besides, FEHD has set up a working group with the trade representatives to study and improve the pig tracing mechanism. FEHD will also work with stakeholders to conduct regular drills to prevent recurrence of similar incidents in the future.
Ends/Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:10
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