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Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek Lai-him and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (July 17):
It has been reported that the Shenzhen Municipal Government earlier conducted sampling tests on shellfish, and the results revealed that the concentration of heavy metal cadmium in almost 70 per cent of the samples had exceeded the relevant standards. The situation was most serious in scallops, fan shells and conpoys, among which the cadmium concentrations in some samples even exceeded the limit by 10 times. Some experts and medical professionals have pointed out that intake of large quantities of cadmium over a long period of time by human body may cause osteoporosis, liver and kidney damage, and even cancer. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether it has sought information from the relevant departments of the Shenzhen Municipal Government about the aforesaid press report; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) of a breakdown, by place of origin, of the shellfish sold in Hong Kong in terms of quantities and percentages;
(c) whether the authorities have obtained the relevant information on the aquaculture farms in those waters in Hong Kong and nearby regions which are more seriously contaminated and contain a higher concentration of heavy metals, so as to step up the sampling tests conducted on the seafood supplied by such aquaculture farms and to take precautionary measures; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(d) whether the authorities have assessed if the existing work of conducting sampling tests are sufficient to ensure that the seafood sold in local markets meet the relevant food safety standards; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(e) whether it has assessed the proportion of seafood imported through illegal channels or without sampling tests conducted among all seafood sold in local markets; if so, of the details, together with a comparison between the present situation and that of five years ago; if not, the reasons for that; and
(f) apart from the food safety report released monthly by the Centre for Food Safety, whether the relevant government departments will make public the results of sampling tests conducted on seafood samples without delay; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
In accordance with the existing mechanism, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) monitors on a daily basis food incidents which occurred in Hong Kong, the Mainland and other countries. It assesses the risks these incidents pose to Hong Kong in the light of the information obtained and takes due actions accordingly.
In June this year, CFS noted that the Shenzhen Center for Disease Control and Prevention had conducted a test on shellfish samples. The test showed that nearly 70 per cent of the samples were found to contain the heavy metal cadmium at a level exceeding the relevant limit, and that the cadmium levels in fan shell, fan scallop and Japanese scallop were of particular concern. CFS has taken due actions following the release of the findings.
My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(a) CFS contacted the Mainland authorities concerned for more information on the report, and learned that no local shellfish from Shenzhen were supplied to Hong Kong. At present, all the shellfish supplied to Hong Kong come from aquaculture farms or fishing areas outside Shenzhen.
(b) According to the records of the Airport Food Inspection Office under CFS, about 9 740 tonnes of live shellfish were imported by air in 2012, mainly from the United States (2 376 tonnes, 24.4 per cent), Thailand (1 364 tonnes, 14.0 per cent), Australia (1 211 tonnes, 12.4 per cent), Canada (921 tonnes, 9.5 per cent) and the United Kingdom (837 tonnes, 8.6 per cent).
Data from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) show that, in 2012, about 1 770 tonnes of live shellfish caught by local fishing vessels mainly in Mainland waters were sold in Hong Kong.
Oysters from the Deep Bay are the major type of shellfish produced locally. In 2012, the total sale volume in Hong Kong was about 92 tonnes.
(c) The Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has implemented a comprehensive marine water quality monitoring programme to monitor the condition and quality of water and sediment in Hong Kong waters. The sediment quality monitoring covers levels of heavy metals. As far as cadmium is concerned, according to EPD’s Report on Marine Water Quality in Hong Kong in 2011, the mean cadmium level in marine sediments in Hong Kong waters from 2007 to 2011 falls within the range of 0 and 0.7 mg/kg dry weight. The level of concern is low.
AFCD conducts regular water quality monitoring at all fish culture zones in Hong Kong to check whether the environmental conditions are suitable for fish culture. The checks cover the level of dissolved oxygen, suspended solids and inorganic pollutants, etc, in marine water. The overall aquaculture environment is considered satisfactory.
The Administration has no information about the state of seawater contamination at aquaculture farms in neighbouring regions.
(d) CFS monitors food incidents in Hong Kong, the Mainland and other countries on a daily basis. Upon detection of a food incident, CFS will make a preliminary evaluation based on the information available. CFS will contact the authorities concerned for further information and take into account the latest overseas and local risk analysis that are available. When necessary, CFS will adjust the scope and intensity of food surveillance and take samples as appropriate for testing of the hazardous substances. It will also take measures accordingly to ensure food safety in Hong Kong and protect public health.
CFS adopts the risk analysis framework promulgated by international food safety authorities in managing food safety, under which hazards associated with food or food ingredients are evaluated and the potential risks to the population assessed. This has facilitated the formulation of a food surveillance programme focusing on risks and food safety. Samples of food items (including seafood and seafood products) are taken at the import, wholesale and retail levels for testing to assess food risks. If any food item is assessed to be hazardous to health, CFS will take vigorous follow-up action.
From 2010 to 2012, more than 2 400 samples of seafood and seafood products (including some 1 300 shellfish products) were taken by the CFS for testing of metallic contaminants. Of all the samples tested, 28 were found to be unsatisfactory. The overall satisfactory rate was about 99 per cent. The test findings show that Hong Kong has been upholding a high level of food safety standard. Among the unsatisfactory samples, four samples of shellfish were found to contain cadmium at levels between 2.17 and 3.5 parts per million (ppm), exceeding the maximum permitted concentration of 2 ppm as stipulated in the relevant legislation. Nevertheless, based on the level of cadmium detected, it is considered unlikely that the samples would bring about any adverse health effect upon normal consumption.
The Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) provides that all food intended for sale for human consumption in Hong Kong, whether imported or locally produced, must be fit for human consumption. In addition, the food must comply with the regulations concerning food safety and food standards made under the above Ordinance, including the Food Adulteration (Metallic Contamination) Regulations (Cap. 132V). Any person who sells food with metallic contamination above the legal limit may be prosecuted and is liable upon conviction to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.
(e) The Import and Export Ordinance (Cap. 60) stipulates that any person who imports any unmanifested cargo shall be guilty of an offence. Offenders will be prosecuted and are liable on summary conviction to a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for two years; or on conviction on indictment to a fine of $2 million and seven years’ imprisonment. A total of 3 945 kg and 64.15 kg of seafood were seized by the Customs and Excise Department in 2009 and 2013 (as at the end of June) respectively in connection with the above offence.
(f) Apart from releasing a monthly Food Safety Report that summarises all surveillance results of the previous month, CFS also releases food surveillance results in a timely manner to enable consumers to make informed choices.
For test results which present threats to public health or are liable to arouse health concern among the public, CFS will issue press releases immediately in order to reduce the possibility of danger to public health and warn the public against consuming the food affected. Apart from press releases, CFS also releases food surveillance results on its website. Advice is given to consumers on how to minimise health risks posed by problem food.
For example, in June last year, under the regular food surveillance programme, CFS took over 9 000 food samples for testing and the results showed that one grilled grouper sample contained Tetrodotoxin. CFS issued a food alert immediately to warn the public against consuming the product.