LCQ4: Testing on hairy crabs

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Ting-kwong and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (October 18):


     Hairy crabs are now in season. It was reported earlier that while various hairy crab importers in Hong Kong had not yet obtained approval documents for exporting hairy crabs from the Mainland, some traders were selling hairy crabs claimed to have been imported from the Mainland. The health certificates produced by such traders, which had been issued by the Mainland authorities, did not include any item on dioxin test, and the traders concerned did not follow the advice of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) of suspending the sale of hairy crabs. On the other hand, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of FEHD indicated in the middle of last month that it would continue to communicate with the Mainland inspection and quarantine authorities on the arrangement for exporting hairy crabs to Hong Kong, but there was no concrete timetable for exporting hairy crabs to Hong Kong. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the details and the latest progress of the discussion on the arrangement for exporting hairy crabs to Hong Kong between CFS and the Mainland inspection and quarantine authorities; whether any importer has obtained approval documents for exporting hairy crabs from the Mainland so far; if not, of the reasons for that and the anticipated time for the issuance of approval documents at the earliest;

(2) of the details of the international standards to which CFS made reference when CFS determined the permitted levels of dioxins in hairy crabs last year; how the authorities handle cases in which some traders sell hairy crabs that are suspected to be problematic; and

(3) as the authorities have earlier proposed that traders should, at the beginning of the hairy crab season, import an appropriate quantity of hairy crabs which will first be sample tested by CFS, and put the relevant batches of hairy crabs on the market for sale only after those samples have passed the tests, of the traders' response to such proposal and the progress of the discussion concerned?



     Small and densely populated, Hong Kong relies mainly on food import.  As an international commerce centre, Hong Kong upholds free trade.  This helps us maintain our reputation as a gourmet capital with a wide variety of food.  However, for public health considerations, it is imperative that the Government gives due consideration to both fair trade and food safety.

     Hong Kong laws stipulate that all food for sale must be fit for human consumption.  In view of the large proportion of food from the Mainland in the local market, administrative arrangements between the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the inspection and quarantine authorities of the Mainland have been put in place to further safeguard the safety of food imported from the Mainland to Hong Kong.  Under the arrangements, only registered aquaculture farms approved by the Mainland inspection and quarantine authorities are authorised to export hairy crabs to Hong Kong.  For further safeguard, each consignment of hairy crabs imported to Hong Kong have to come with health certificates issued by the relevant Mainland inspection and quarantine authorities.
     Regarding the three parts of the question asked by the Hon Wong, my reply is as follows:

(1) CFS has been liaising closely with the Mainland authorities on the regulatory arrangement for hairy crabs.  Both sides review the existing regulatory arrangements over hairy crabs based on science and reasonableness.  The liaison will continue.

     The Mainland inspection and quarantine authorities have released the updated list of registered aquaculture farms eligible for exporting hairy crabs to Hong Kong in September and October this year respectively.  CFS has informed the local trade of the updated list which sets out 42 registered aquaculture farms eligible for exporting hairy crabs to Hong Kong.

     The marketing arrangements of the Mainland hairy crab exporters are commercial decisions.  The applications by Mainland enterprises to Mainland authorities for approval to export hairy crabs involve regulatory, inspection and quarantine arrangements in the Mainland.  CFS performs its gatekeeping role at the import and retail levels within the jurisdiction of Hong Kong.

(2) Dioxins are a group of highly toxic carcinogens.  In response to the incident on dioxins detected in food in Europe, the food safety regulator of Hong Kong then set an action level for dioxins in 1999.  Testing for dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (hereafter referred to as dioxins) in hairy crabs started in 2014.  CFS categorically set an action level of 6.5 picograms (pg) toxic equivalent per gram for hairy crabs in 2016, after taking into account the regulatory arrangements of the European Union and Taiwan, and local dietary habits.

     Since CFS started testing dioxins in hairy crabs, three hairy crab samples were detected to have dioxins level exceeded CFS' action level in 2016.  So far this year, CFS has detected a hairy crab sample from Taoyuan, Taiwan which has exceeded the action level.  Two batches of hairy crabs were imported from the aquaculture farm in Taoyuan, Taiwan concerned by two local importers so far.  The two batches of hairy crabs did not enter the market.  The hairy crabs concerned have been marked and sealed by CFS and are surrendered to CFS for disposal.

     According to CFS' information, there are hairy crabs imported from Taiwan and Japan being sold in the local market.  Also, there are hairy crabs claimed to be imported from the Mainland being sold in the local market.

     As of noon on October 16, 2017, in addition to the sample from Taoyuan, Taiwan, CFS has tested another 84 hairy crab samples, including 11 samples tested for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs.  The testing results of those other samples are satisfactory.

     The Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) and FEHD recently have stepped up customs clearance inspection and sample taking for testing of related cargoes via sea, land and air as well as jointly inspected retail outlets to safeguard that hairy crabs on sale in the market meet the standards as stipulated under related ordinances.  C&ED and FEHD will continue to carry out joint operations as necessary.

     CFS handles problem hairy crabs in the same way as it does with other problem foods.  The follow-up actions include conducting risk assessment, tracing the food source, requesting the trade to stop selling or surrender the affected products for disposal where necessary, and strengthening the sampling and testing efforts.  CFS will also inform the relevant authorities of the exporting places as soon as possible and carry out the relevant risk communication work.

(3) CFS has suggested the importers to consider importing a small quantity of hairy crabs initially and voluntarily stop selling them and not to order further quantities until CFS' testing results are available.  The arrangement has been trialled when local importers imported hairy crabs from Taiwan and Japan.  This is the reason why hairy crabs from the aquaculture farm in Taoyuan, Taiwan, where the abovementioned hairy crab sample which had exceeded CFS' action level for dioxins had come from, did not enter the local market.

Ends/Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Issued at HKT 15:30