Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

 

Confirmed Minutes of the Twenty-first Meeting

held at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, 13 May 2004

at Room 1007, 10/F, Citibank Tower, 3 Garden Road, Hong Kong

 

Professor YUEN Kwok-yung, JP        (Chairman)

Mr CHAN Bing-woon, SBS, JP

Dr CHAN Hei-ling, Helen

Mr HUNG Hak-hip, Peter

Dr Anthony Edward JAMES

Mr KWOK Chun-wah, Jimmy, MH

Mr LAI Tat-sang, David, MH

Mr John LEE

Dr LO King-shun

Dr the Hon LO Wing-lok, JP

Dr P Y LAM                                       Director of Health

Mr S P LAU                                       Acting 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

Professor KWAN Hoi-shan

Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace

Ms LAM Wai-ling, Leona, JP

Dr LUI Chiu-tong, Jacqueline

Mrs Carrie YAU                                 Permanent Secretary for Health,

                                                            Welfare and Food

 

In Attendance

 

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

 

Mr Eddy CHAN                                 Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and

                                                            Food (Food and Environmental Hygiene)

 

Ms Shirley KWAN                              Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for

                                                            Health, Welfare and Food (Food and

                                                            Environmental Hygiene) 2

 

Ms Priscilla TO                                  Assistant Secretary for Health,

                                                            Welfare and Food (Food and

                                                            Environmental Hygiene) 1

 

Mr Louis NG                                     Senior Executive Officer (Food and

                                                            Environmental Hygiene)

 

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

 

Mr Donald TONG                       Deputy Director (Administration

                                                     and Development)

 

Ms Annette LEE                           Deputy Director (Environmental Hygiene)

 

Mr HUNG Chi Pai                       Assistant Director (Operations) 1

 

Miss Bella MUI                            Senior Administrative Officer

                                                     (Administration and Development)

 

Department of Health

 

Dr L Y TSE                                 Consultant (Community Medicine)

 

Opening Remarks

 

                   The Chairman welcomed Members to the meeting. 

 

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.                                         A Member said that at the last meeting the Administration was asked to prepare a paper on water seeping problems in multi-storey buildings.  He hoped that the paper could be ready for discussion at the earliest possible instance. 

 

Agenda Item 3: Prevention of Avian Influenza: Consultation on Long Term Direction to Minimize the Risk of Human Infection

 

4.                                         The Chairman invited Mr Eddy CHAN to present the paper. 

 

5.                                         A Member said that he supported the Government��s policy of separating humans from live poultry and the proposed strategic approaches to achieve this policy.  Noting that this year was the election year of the Legislative Council and that the proposed strategic approaches would affect the livelihood of live poultry traders, he opined that it would be difficult to secure support of the consultation from politicians.  Mr Eddy CHAN concurred but pointed out that the Administration could not defer the consultation exercise as international health and animal health organisations had cautioned that H5N1 avian influenza might become endemic in poultry in the region and outbreaks might recur next year and beyond.  There was a need for the Government to put forward the long-term direction to minimise the risk of human infection of avian influenza.

 

6.                                         Another Member indicated support of the Government��s policy of separating humans from live poultry.  He opined that Approach A (��cold-chain��) and Approach B (��freshly slaughtered chickens��) could be implemented in parallel.  Chilled chickens could be processed in the Mainland, whereas regional slaughtering of live poultry would provide consumers with a choice of freshly slaughtered chickens.  In response, Mr Eddy CHAN said that it might not be economically viable to pursue Approach A and Approach B in parallel.  

 

7.                                          A Member said that chilled and freshly slaughtered chickens might also pose health hazard if the chickens were not properly slaughtered and processed and hence resulted in salmonella food poisoning.  He suggested that the Government should conduct a comparable assessment on the risk of avian influenza posed by live poultry and the risk of salmonella food poisoning caused by chilled and freshly slaughtered chickens.  He questioned if it was the appropriate time to pursue the cold-chain approach given that Hong Kong had adopted various measures to prevent the occurrence of avian influenza and that no outbreak had occurred amid the epidemic in Asia this year.

 

8.                                          Another Member said that consumers still had very strong preference towards freshly slaughtered chickens as evident by the recent upsurge in the price of live chickens.  Consideration should be given to increasing the number of live chickens imported into Hong Kong so that consumers would not suffer from an unreasonably high retail price of live chickens.  She remarked that the Government should take into account the implications on live poultry traders�� livelihood when deciding on the long-term measure to further minimise the risk of human infection of avian influenza. 

 

9.                                         A Member said that he was in support of the Government��s policy of separating humans from live poultry and further measures to improve the hygiene condition of wet markets.  He personally had no preference towards Approach A or B.  As the Chairman of the Livestock Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries, he reflected the major discussion of the Sub-Committee earlier on the consultation paper.  As the Sub-Committee mainly comprised members of the livestock trade, most of the members did not support the consultation paper.  They had urged the Administration to announce the voluntary buy-out package as soon as possible.  They had also requested the Administration to provide more information about the shelf-life and risk of contamination of freshly slaughtered chickens to facilitate the public��s consideration of Approach B. 

 

10.                                     Mr Gregory LEUNG said that chilled and freshly slaughtered chickens should be properly processed to avoid the risk of microbiological contamination.  There was strict control over the temperature and environment in chilled chicken processing plants in the Mainland and other places to ensure the quality and hygiene standard of chilled chickens.  If the ��cold-chain�� approach were adopted, there would also be similar control in the central slaughterhouse to ensure food safety.  As for the ��freshly slaughtered chickens�� approach, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) had conducted a study about the shelf-life of the product.  It was found that freshly slaughtered chickens would become spoiled after 4 hours if being kept at 35 oC, 8-9 hours at 25 oC and more than 12 hours at 15oC.  Hence, to ensure the food safety and wholesomeness of ��freshly slaughtered chickens��, they would be required to be kept in chillers while being displayed for sale at the slaughtering hubs.  Moreover, if the chickens were to be delivered to the customers�� homes or restaurants, they had to be transported by vehicles with refrigeration facilities. 

 

11.                                     A Member remarked that no persons had died of avian influenza in Hong Kong since 1997, but there were salmonella food poisoning cases leading to fatality every year.  The Government should be cautious in introducing the ��cold chain�� approach or the ��freshly slaughtered chickens�� approach. 

 

12.                                     Dr P Y LAM said that previous experience had shown that humans contracted avian influenza through contact with live poultry or their faeces.  The consequence of human infection was severe as avian influenza H5N1 was a highly fatal disease.  There was also concern that avian influenza virus might reassort with human influenza virus leading to the emergence of a new influenza virus strain that could result in an influenza pandemic.  To minimise the risk of human infection of avian influenza, it was important to separate humans from live poultry.  While this might change the eating habit, the community needed to consider the risk to public health posed by continuous retail sale of a large quantity of live poultry in our crowded retail markets.  On the other hand, the public health hazards caused by contaminated chilled chickens could be addressed by regulated processing procedures, proper food storage and handling, as well as thorough cooking. 

 

13.                                     A Member indicated support of Approach B.  He suggested that the Government should take into account the effects of this Approach on the livelihood of live poultry traders and considered giving some form of financial assistance to the traders affected.

14.                                     Another Member remarked that it would not be easy to obtain the community��s full support to Approach A or Approach B in the short term given the community��s preference towards freshly slaughtered chickens.  However, the consultation could encourage the community to consider the long-term direction on avian influenza having regard to potential health risk posed by the disease.  Through the process, the public would be educated on the merits of ��cold-chain��.  In the interim, the Administration should focus its efforts on the short term and medium term measures to minimize the contact between humans and live poultry.  In particular, the restriction on the daily quantity of live chickens imported into Hong Kong was an effective measure to reduce the risk and should be maintained. 

 

15.                                     The Chairman said that a Member had given some written comments on the paper.  She preferred a requirement for the separation of live poultry from the vendors and marketing customers instead of Approaches A and B.  This meant extensive renovation of the existing chicken stalls to ensure that there was an air-tight separation between the shoppers and the poultry.  The air from the poultry section would then be diverted into the open, e.g. to the roof of the market and into open air to prevent contamination on cross-infection.  She did not object to the ��cold-chain�� concept except that it should be an option rather than a replacement of live poultry stalls altogether. 

 

16.                                     The Chairman said that the daily exposure of the public to a large quantity of live poultry at retail markets posed a continuing risk for human health.  In addition to the risk of avian influenza, there remained a risk of having other viruses (e.g. infectious bronchitis virus) jumping across species to infect humans given the close contact between the public and live poultry at the retail level.  The risk could never be quantified as the pattern of assortment and mutation of these viruses had yet to be fully discovered and understood.  However, it was sure that if the viruses jumped across species to infect humans, this could lead to serious public health incidents with catastrophic consequences.  There was hence an urgent need to minimize the contact between humans and live poultry in order to prevent Hong Kong from being affected by another public health crisis.  Disallowing the retail sale of live poultry would be the most effective means and the consultation paper outlined two proposed strategic approaches to achieve this. 

 

17.                                     As regards microbiological contamination, the Chairman remarked that the two approaches would incur a lower risk as compared with the present situation where fresh chickens were purchased and kept at room temperature (in many cases from morning until evening) before cooking.  Proper handling and cooking would address the concern of food poisoning.  In fact, the ��cold-chain�� approach was the most desirable one to lower the risk of bacterial infection as the chickens were immediately chilled after slaughtering to preserve the wholesomeness.

 

18.                                     The Chairman pointed out that the ability to safeguard public health was increasingly recognized by the world as a crucial factor for governance of a country or a place.  Politicians should also include public health as one of their political agenda. 

 

19.                                     A Member remarked that the general public might not fully understand the potential risk of avian influenza posed to public health and appreciate the merits of the ��cold-chain�� concept.  In response, the Chairman said that the Government should provide more public education in these areas.

 

20.                                     Another Member agreed that central slaughtering would be the final solution to minimise the risk of human infection of avian influenza.  However, it would take time for the community to accept this.  In the interim, regional slaughtering which offered the choice of freshly slaughtered chickens would be a possible solution. 

 

21.                                     Mr Leung said that some recent local academic studies revealed that the bacterial count of the air measured in live poultry market stalls were on the high side, though not to the extent of causing health hazards.  The Administration considered that the most effective way to improve the air quality and hygiene condition of wet markets was to reduce the number of live poultry market stalls and separate customers from live poultry as far as possible.  In this connection, the consultation paper had outlined the short and medium term measures that the Government would implement, including additional rest days and voluntary buy-out of the market tenancies and stall licences.  In the longer term, Option A or Option B would achieve the policy of segregation of humans from live poultry.  

 

22.                                     The Chairman said that the LegCo Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene had invited the Advisory Council to attend its special meeting on 4 June 2004 to give its views on the consultation paper.  It was agreed that a written submission summarizing the views given by Members would be sent to the Panel instead of sending a representative to attend the meeting.

 

Agenda Item 4 : Strategies and Work Plan for Maintaining a Clean Hong Kong

 

23.                                     The Chairman invited Mr Donald TONG to present the paper.

 

24.                                     A Member asked if it was difficult to identify the hygiene black spots especially the areas where environmental nuisances were caused by feral bird droppings.  In response, Mr Tong said that FEHD would continue to work with other relevant departments to identify the black spots and strengthen inspection and enforcement action in these areas.  To address the environmental nuisances caused by feral birds, FEHD had been taking enforcement actions against feeding of feral birds and erected notices to warn the public not to feed the birds in the popular feeding places. 

 

25.                                     Another Member opined that the public should have self-discipline to maintain Hong Kong as a clean city.  Littering and spitting by drivers while driving continued to be a major problem.  He asked if members from the public could be appointed as recognized spotters to report the littering and spitting cases to FEHD, as in the case of accredited spotters to identify smoky vehicles on streets.  In response, Mr Leung said that it was difficult to take immediate enforcement actions against these offences.  FEHD had appealed to drivers in the past to help report littering from vehicles by asking them to fill in a report form.  The response was not encouraging and the department would publicise this reporting system to strengthen the enforcement actions.  In fact, one of the themes of FEHD��s publicity drive this summer would be against vehicle littering.  As regards environmental hygiene nuisances caused by feeding of feral birds, some cases were actually related to feeding in private places rather than public places.  FEHD was considering if any enforcement action could be taken against these cases.  A Member suggested that the Administration could consider giving incentives to the spotters to report littering from vehicles. 

 

26.                                     Mr Leung concurred that community and district involvement was essential in improving and sustaining the environmental hygiene standard in Hong Kong.  In this connection, the Home Affairs Department had recently implemented a scheme to appoint volunteers to grade the cleanliness standard of respective districts and a community cleanliness index for respective districts would be publicised.  The index would indicate the cleanliness standard of respective districts.

 

27.                                     A Member said that the Administration should continue to conduct public education on Clean Hong Kong.  Another Member concurred and suggested that the Administration could publicise a ��litter black spot�� hotline so that members of the public could phone in to report litter black spots.  Another Member added that the Administration should educate children in their early age on the need to keep Hong Kong clean. 

 

28.                                     The Chairman asked if a fixed penalty notice could be issued to the market tenants who were found not keeping their stalls hygienic.  In response, Mr Tong said that these cases would be considered as a breach of the relevant hygiene condition of market tenancy and consideration was now being given to the introduction of a demerit point system to deter similar breaches and violation of other lease conditions.  Mr HUNG Chi-pai added that according to the Fixed Penalty (Public Cleanliness Offences) Ordinance (Cap. 570), fixed penalty notices could only be issued to four major types of cleanliness offences including littering, dog fouling, spitting and display of bills and posters.  In many cases, the market tenants merely placed their goods and belongings in the common areas, and it would be difficult from a legal point of view to regard these acts as littering. 

 

29.                                     A Member suggested that stricter enforcement actions should be taken against the market tenants who had breached hygiene-related tenancy conditions.  In response, Mr HUNG Chi-pai said that FEHD market staff took enforcement action against the breaches whenever identified, but it was not possible to station market staff throughout the day at every stall.  Another Member opined that better management could improve the hygiene condition of wet markets.  Tenants could be required to reconfigure the setting of their stalls and align the ways in which their goods were displayed. 

 

30.                                     A Member opined that enforcement actions should be strengthened to address the environmental hygiene problem caused by display of bills and posters.  In response, Mr Leung said that enforcement actions were taken and would continue to be taken against this cleanliness offence.  Moreover, the proposal to impose community service orders on repeat cleanliness offenders would enhance deterrence. 

 

Agenda Item 5 : Control of Live Fish Wholesalers and Fish Tank Water Quality

 

31.                                     The Chairman invited Mr HUNG Chi-pai to present the paper.

 

32.                                     A Member said that he was in support of the proposed legislation to prohibit the abstraction of seawater from areas adjacent to the coast for keeping live seafood for human consumption.  Addressing his concern over the control of the live fish wholesalers stationed at Lau Fau Shan, Ms Annette LEE said that the wholesalers there would also be subject to the licensing control of FEHD and they had to comply with the same requirements and conditions as those for retail outlets selling live fish. 

 

33.                                     In response to a Member��s query as to why the Administration would not consider allowing the abstraction of seawater at designated locations only.  Ms Lee said that this might not be feasible due to enforcement and other practical considerations, as the quality of seawater was subject to fluctuations due to weather changes and other factors.

 

34.                                     A Member asked if the Administration was empowered to draw samples from vehicles used for transportation of seawater for testing.  Ms Lee replied in the negative.  Dr James suggested that the Administration could consider standardizing the equipment and set up of the vehicles. 

 

35.                                     The Chairman said that a Member had raised a query in writing.  She asked what was the exact percentage of increase in costs of producing synthetic seawater as compared to using seawater and how did that translate into a monthly cost for an average trader.  In response, Mr Leung said that according to information from the trade, the cost would increase by 50% or even more, depending on the mode of operation of the restaurant/stall.  He added that there would be enforcement problems if the use of synthetic seawater were made mandatory given that it was not easy to differentiate natural seawater and synthetic seawater.  Moreover, to ensure effective use of synthetic seawater, operators had to equip themselves with the knowledge and know-how to control water salinity properly.  The Administration therefore considered it more appropriate to encourage voluntary use of synthetic seawater rather than making it a mandatory requirement.

 

Agenda Item 6: Any Other Business

 

36.                                     A Member pointed out that in some occasions street cleansers were found not to properly store their cleansing equipment after cleansing.  Another Member added that there were odour and water dripping problems of some refuse collection vehicles. 

 

37.                                     In response, Mr HUNG Chi-pai said that street cleansing workmen had been reminded to properly keep their cleansing equipment at refuse collection points after cleansing.  FEHD would remind the workmen again.  As for the latter issue, FEHD had been working with the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department to improve the design and ensure the maintenance of FEHD��s refuse collection vehicles.  FEHD had also reflected similar concern to the contractors and reminded them to ensure the condition and hygiene standard of their own refuse collection vehicles.  FEHD would maintain liaison with the contractors to address the problem.

 

38.                                     There being no other business, the meeting ended at about 4:30 p.m.

 

 

Secretariat

Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

June 2004