Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene


Confirmed Minutes of the Fourteenth Meeting
held at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, 24 January 2003
at Room 1007, 10/F Citibank Tower, Garden Road

Present

Dr TSE Chi-wai, Daniel (Chairman)
Mr CHAN Bing-woon
Mr Peter HUNG
Dr Anthony Edward JAMES
Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace
Mr LEE Luen-wai, John
Dr the Hon LO Wing-lok
Professor MA Ching-yung
Professor YUEN Kwok-yung
Mr Thomas CHAN Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Mr Gregory LEUNG Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene
Miss Vivian KO (Secretary)


Absent with Apologies

Dr HO Dit-sang, John
Mr KAN Chung-nin, Tony
Miss Leonie KI
Professor KWAN Hoi-shan
Dr Ronald LEUNG
Mr Eddy LI
Mr LO Yau-lai, Winston
Dr E K YEOH Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Dr Margaret CHAN Director of Health



In Attendance

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

Mrs Carrie YAU Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Mr Eddy CHAN Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (Food and Environmental Hygiene)
Mr Edward LAW Administrative Assistant to Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Mr Edward LAW Principal Assistant Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (Food and Environmental Hygiene) 2

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

Mr C W LAI Assistant Director (Inspection and Quarantine)
Dr Trevor ELLIS Senior Veterinary Officer (Livestock)

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

Dr S P MAK Deputy Director (Food and Public Health)
Mr M C YUEN Pest Control Officer i/c

Department of Health

Dr L Y TSE Consultant (Community Medicine)


Opening Remarks

The Chairman welcomed Members to the meeting. He introduced Mr Gregory LEUNG (Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene), Mr Eddy CHAN (Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (Food and Environmental Hygiene)) and Miss Vivian KO (the new Secretary of the Advisory Council) to members.

Agenda Item 1: Confirmation of the Minutes of the Last Meeting

2. Members confirmed the minutes of the last meeting.

Agenda Item 2 : Matters Arising from the Minutes of the Last Meeting

3. There were no matters arising from the minutes of the last meeting.

Agenda Item 3: Report on Recent Avian Influenza Incidents

4. The Chairman said that the purpose of the item was to report on the recent avian influenza incidents that occurred since December 2002 and the measures taken by the Administration to prevent the spread of the disease. Mr C W LAI presented the paper of the item.

5. A Member asked whether the avian influenza virus found in wild birds was the same as that found in local farms. Dr Trevor ELLIS replied that the H5N1 avian influenza viruses found in the Penfold Park and Kowloon Park incidents were different from the one that could infect human in 1997. The genotype of the H5N1 virus found in the Kowloon Park incident resembled the one found in local farms and retail markets previously. However, the genotype of the H5N1 virus found in the Penfold Park incident had not been found before.

6. Another Member remarked that the community should consider consuming chilled chickens as a substitute for freshly slaughtered chickens in view of the potential risk posed by avian influenza viruses to public health. If feral pigeons were infected with H5N1 avian influenza, there could be serious public health implications given the huge population of feral pigeons in crowded areas and their close proximity to the general public. The entire avian flu surveillance and control system should aim at preventing the viruses from infecting human. The Chairman said that the Advisory Council had previously recommended the Administration to gather the public's views on the consumption of chilled chickens as a substitute for freshly slaughtered chickens.

7. Mrs Carrie YAU said that the resumption of import of chilled chickens from the Mainland had provided more choices to consumers. Since the resumption took place in December 2002, the import of chilled chickens had not resulted in any significant effect on the demand for live chickens. This reflected the preference of the community for freshly slaughtered chickens.

8. Mr Thomas CHAN said that the recent H5N1 infection of wild birds had given a new perspective of the avian influenza problem. Even if there was no live poultry trade in Hong Kong, wild birds might also bring in the viruses. The Chairman said that contact between the community and live birds would be significantly reduced if there was no live poultry trade in Hong Kong. The risk caused by infection of wild birds was likely to be much smaller than the risk caused by infection of live poultry.

9. A Member said that it was not possible to eradicate avian flu viruses from our environment or to prevent infection of the chicken population. Our avian flu surveillance and control programme should aim at preventing the viruses from infecting human.

10. Another Member said that the 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong was the first time ever that an H5N1 virus was found to infect human. Since that incident, the H5N1 viruses found in Hong Kong were not the same as the one found in 1997. He acknowledged the Government's efforts in the surveillance and control of avian influenza in Hong Kong over the years and supported that the primary objective of the entire system was to protect public health. Since H5 avian influenza was endemic in chickens in Hong Kong, depopulation was no longer the only course of action to take in the event of an outbreak. He supported the Government's strategy in preventing the spread of the disease and not compensating local farmers for any chickens in the current outbreaks.

11. In response to the Member's query, Mr Thomas CHAN said that AFCD had adequate staffing resources to cope with the intensive monitoring of the infected farms and the farms surrounding the infected farms.

12. The Member asked why only chickens within the age group of 8-55 days could be vaccinated and whether AFCD could effectively monitor the application of vaccines. Dr ELLIS replied that 2 doses of vaccine had to be applied to each chicken and there should be a period of 28 days between the first and second doses. Since it would take at least 14 days for the vaccine to take effect and chickens of around 70 days old might be released to the market, it was decided that the second dose should not be given to a chicken older than 55 days to ensure that the chicken had developed proper immunity before being marketed. Since farmers had to obtain prior approval from AFCD before day-old chickens could be imported for rearing and the vaccine was distributed to farmers by AFCD, the department was able to effectively manage the application of the vaccine.

13. A Member said that farmers used to receive compensation for the birds slaughtered when their farms were found infected with avian influenza viruses. She asked how farmers could be encouraged to improve the preventive capability of their farms and report the abnormal deaths in their farms if they could no longer receive compensation from the government.

14. Mr Thomas CHAN said that it would be in the farmers' own interests to report the abnormalities in their farms to AFCD as soon as possible in order to prevent the spread of the disease within their farms or to the surrounding farms. Farmers were required to upgrade the biosecurity standard of their farms, otherwise their licences would be revoked. Most farmers had already put in place the biosecurity measures required and many of them found that the preventive capability of their farms against diseases had improved. So far nine farm licences had already been revoked for failure to implement the biosecurity measures. Warning letters had been issued to 20 farmers and their licences would be revoked if they failed to put the measures in place by 4 February 2003.

15. A Member asked whether farmers would bear the vaccination cost when a routine vaccination programme was to be implemented in the future and whether the vaccination cost would affect the price of chickens. Mr Thomas CHAN said that the total cost of giving two doses to each chicken was about $0.50 and farmers would be required to bear the cost in case a comprehensive vaccination programme was to be implemented after the trial. The cost of vaccination would unlikely have any significant impact on the price of chickens.

16. Another Member said that the public still had strong preference for freshly slaughtered chickens. As long as there was a live poultry trade in Hong Kong, there remained a risk of recurrence of avian influenza outbreaks. However, the risk of humans being infected should be low as a series of measures had been implemented by the Government to control the disease. At the retail level, the hygienic conditions of markets had been greatly improved and the monthly rest day was implemented. Additional rest days were also introduced when necessary. The risk would be further reduced if two rest days were implemented per month. At the farm level, if farmers continued to upgrade the biosecurity of their farms to meet the international standards and vaccination was adopted as a supplementary measure to prevent the spread of the disease, the likelihood of large outbreaks would be very low. All birds in recreational parks had been vaccinated. The chance of people coming into contact with the faecal droppings of wild birds was not large and the risk would be further reduced if proper personal hygiene practice was observed.

17. The Chairman suggested using the community's influence to secure the agreement of the retail trade to implement two rest days per month.

18. Mr Gregory LEUNG said that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) had started its discussion with the trade on the measures to reduce the risk of avian influenza outbreaks in live poultry retail outlets during winter in September 2002. An additional rest day was introduced in January and February 2003. Starting from early December 2002, intensive cleansing and disinfection were conducted at the retail outlets nearly every three days. A new measure was also put in place to require operators to slaughter all chickens in their stalls and to cease business for 24 hours for thorough cleansing and disinfection if H5 avian influenza virus was found at their stalls. This measure was effective in preventing the spread of the disease to other stalls.

19. Mr LEUNG said that the trade was very concerned about the effects of two rest days per month on their operation. FEHD would continue to lobby the retail trade to support the measure. The Chairman suggested that when lobbying the retail trade, FEHD should explain to the trade that control measures were put in place at all levels of the supply chain and all stakeholders were responsible for reducing the risk that avian flu viruses might pose to public health. A Member echoed that there was strong reaction from the trade against the measure. They might however support the introduction of two rest days per month in high-risk periods.

20. The Member said that the appearance of chilled chickens was far less attractive than freshly slaughtered chickens. As most chilled chicken processing plants used water in the primary chilling process, bloody water was found seeping from the plastic bags used to wrap the chilled chickens at the retail level. He suggested that the pre-package processing and packaging of chilled chickens should be improved.

21. The Chairman thanked Members for expressing their views on the subject.

Agenda Item 4: Anti-rodent Campaign 2003

22. The Chairman said that the purpose of the item was to brief Members on the Anti-rodent Campaign 2003 conducted by FEHD. Dr S P MAK presented the paper of the item.

23. A Member acknowledged FEHD's efforts on anti-rodent activities, in particular those activities in public housing estates. He suggested that actions should be taken to focus on other blackspots such as individual private residential buildings. Dr MAK responded that individual private residential buildings were also identified as the target areas of the Anti-rodent Campaign 2003. She added that district promotion work would be carried out by 20 FEHD district offices in collaboration with the Home Affairs Department.

24. In response to a Member's questions, Dr MAK replied that restaurants would be reminded to handle their refuse in a hygienic manner. FEHD would also remind street cleansing contractors to keep the back lanes clean.

25. The Chairman asked if there was any rodent problem in the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) network. Mr M C YUEN reported that the food premises and drainage system along the MTR network were designed with a view to prevent the rodent problem. In response to Mrs YAU's query, Mr M C YUEN said that rodents might be brought along the railway network together with cargoes, and hence the cargo-handling area along the railway network was being monitored.

26. In response to a Member's query, Dr MAK explained that FEHD monitored the situation of flea and rodent infestation by the Rat-flea Index, which was used to assess the risk of plague transmission as recommended by the World Health Organization, and the Rodent Infestation Rate. The Chairman asked if the latter could reflect the rodent population. Mr M C YUEN said that the infestation rate could reflect the activity of rodents.

27. A Member suggested that the publicity programme targeted at school students should emphasize the seriousness of an outbreak of plague. This would help increase students' awareness of the importance of controlling the rodent problem. Dr MAK replied that the message to be disseminated would include the importance of rodent control for preventing various diseases transmitted by rodents. She pointed out that there was a need to avoid causing unnecessary alarm to the community as there had been no plague cases for many years in Hong Kong. However, as cases of plague still occurred in some places in the region, and with the flow of goods and persons between Hong Kong and these places, there still remained a risk in Hong Kong if the rodent problem was not properly controlled. Dr L Y TSE added that the diseases that would be transmitted by rodents would be mentioned in the publicity pamphlets.

28. A Member supported the idea to focus public education efforts on the importance of rodent control for preventing various diseases transmitted by rodents. Although there had been no outbreak of plague in Hong Kong for many years, there were sporadic cases of other diseases caused by rodents such as leptospirosis and hantaviral diseases. Efforts should be made to increase the public's awareness towards rodent control whenever these cases were reported. Any outbreaks of theses diseases might affect the reputation of Hong Kong as a world-class cosmopolitan city. It was therefore important to control the rodent problem. The Chairman and another Member agreed. A third Member remarked that whilst the seriousness of the diseases should be mentioned, a balance should be maintained in order not to cause any unnecessary public panic. The Chairman concluded that public education efforts should focus not only on the nuisances caused by rodents, but also on the public health concerns that might arise due to rodent-transmitted diseases.

29. In response to a Member's query, Dr MAK explained that in addition to the themes set for the two phases of the Anti-rodent Campaign, regular operations covering all identified blackspots would be carried on.

30. The Chairman thanked Members for expressing their views on the subject.

Agenda Item 5: Any Other Business

31. The Secretariat would inform Members of the date of the next meeting later.

32. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 4:20 p.m.

Secretariat
Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
Health, Welfare and Food Bureau
February 2003

 

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