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LCQ8: Combating illegal sale and smuggling of chilled chickens
     Following is a question by the Hon Steven Ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Environment and Ecology, Mr Tse Chin-wan, in the Legislative Council today (March 22):

     In recent years, there have been constant complaints from members of the public about chilled chickens from unknown sources being touted with the methods including, among others, touting around by unlicensed hawkers, selling in stalls without cold-storage equipment, using trucks to conduct "flash sales" by the roadside, and selling illegally in frozen meat shops. Such chilled chickens pose food safety risks as they may not have been inspected by the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) or refrigerated properly. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows the aforesaid situation of chilled chickens being sold illegally; of the numbers of complaints concerned received, relevant enforcement actions taken and successful prosecutions instituted by the Government in the past three years, as well as the penalties imposed on the convicted persons;
(2) whether it has assessed the risks posed to food safety and local chicken farms by the current situation of illegal sale of chilled chickens in Hong Kong;
(3) of the enforcement actions currently taken to combat the illegal sale of chilled chickens; whether it will step up inspections and increase penalties, or even conduct investigations by means such as decoy operations, so as to step up the efforts in combating the illegal sale and smuggling of chilled chickens; and
(4) as there are views pointing out that due to space problem, the inspection on imported food conducted by the Man Kam To Food Control Office has been found wanting, and that apart from the occurrence of cases from time to time involving goods vehicles avoiding going to the Office for inspection by the CFS, the CFS conducts random checks only on a fairly small amount of food or on goods placed in the front row of the cargo compartments of goods vehicles, making it easy for smuggled chilled chickens mixed with other goods to avoid random checks, whether the Government will consider building additional wholesale food markets and requiring all food products supplied to Hong Kong by land to be transported to such markets for inspection before they can be sent to other retail outlets, and at the same time further improving the inspection on food products supplied to Hong Kong by air and by sea, so as to eradicate the problem of chilled chicken smuggling?
     My reply to the different parts of the question raised by the Hon Steven Ho is as follows:
(1) Under the Food Business Regulation (Cap. 132X) (the Regulation), the premises for carrying on the business involving the sale of chilled chicken must obtain a fresh provision shop (FPS) licence. Save with the permission in writing of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), no person shall sell chilled chicken, which is classified as restricted food under the Regulation. Regarding illegal sale of chilled chicken, the FEHD conducts inspections from time to time, follow up on complaints and institute prosecutions for cases with sufficient evidence. The number of complaints received by the FEHD about the illegal sale of chilled chicken, cases with prosecution and cases with conviction between 2020 and 2022 are set out at Annex.
(2) Pursuant to the licensing conditions of FPSs and the tenancy agreements of the FEHD's market stalls, chilled chicken sold at FPSs or market stalls must be obtained from sources approved by the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (DFEH). The premises must also be kept clean and hygienic and provided with refrigerators of suitable capacity and in good working order for the storage and display of chilled chicken for sale. The temperature inside the refrigerator(s) must be maintained between 0°C and 4°C at all times. Moreover, the FEHD has published the Food Hygiene Code, which sets out the food hygiene and safety standards in respect of the packaging, labelling, storage temperature and transportation, etc. of chilled chicken. As chilled chicken sold illegally may not be compliant with the regulatory requirements for handling, storage and temperature control, etc., there may be potential implications on food safety. The FEHD will enhance its publicity and educate members of the public on the potential food safety risk associated with purchasing chilled chicken sold illegally, and remind them to patronise the licensed FPSs. According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department's assessment, the situation to date has not increased the biosecurity risks of local chicken farms.
(3) Committed to combating illegal sale of chilled chicken, the FEHD conducts regular inspections at licensed FPSs and public market stalls, proactively investigates suspected non-compliant cases, initiates investigation based on the complaints received (including taking decoy actions to collect evidence and information), and arranges blitz inspections and enforcement programmes on a need basis, including immediate arrest of the concerned persons and seizure of food and paraphernalia. Around 7 300 inspections and related actions were taken last year in this regard.
     Pursuant to the Regulation, operating a FPS without licence, not operating a licensed FPS in accordance with the Regulation, or selling restricted food (including chilled chicken) without written permission commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months, and an additional daily fine of $900. Licensed FPSs and the FEHD's market stalls that sell chilled chicken from sources other than those approved by the DFEH or fail to store chilled chicken in suitable refrigeration equipment constitute a breach of the licensing conditions/market stall tenancy agreement. They may be liable to cancellation of the licence/termination of the market stall tenancy. The FEHD will keep in view the actual situation, and step up inspections and review the penalties where necessary.
     Besides, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the FEHD has all along maintained close contact and exchanged intelligence with the other law enforcement departments. Joint blitz operations at boundary control points (including Man Kam To) are carried out to combat illegal import of chilled chicken and other regulated foods.
(4) The extension project of the Man Kam To Food Control Office (MKTFCO) of the CFS was completed in 2013. An additional 23 inspection parking spaces were provided on the expanded venue to meet the increasing demands. Currently, the MKTFCO does not have problem of insufficient space. Staff of the MKTFCO has strengthened the inspection of imported food by making use of elevated platform to assist in inspecting different parts (including the upper and inner parts) of food vehicles for more thorough inspection. The CFS also carries out joint operations with the other law enforcement departments at the Man Kam To Boundary Control Point to combat illegal import of chilled chicken.
     To ensure the safety of imported food, the CFS adopts a risk-based approach to control food imported by air, land and sea routes. Regulated food (including chilled chicken) are required to have import documents, health certificates, import licences or import permissions, etc. The CFS will check relevant documents, conduct physical inspection, and/or take food samples for testing based on the actual circumstances.
     The current food import control measures of Hong Kong effectively ensure food safety and enable timely supplies of fresh food to the market. The boundary food control facilities and wholesale markets serve different purposes. We will review as and when necessary. At present, no change is considered necessary.
Ends/Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:10
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