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Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

 

Confirmed Minutes of the Twenty-sixth Meeting

held at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, 23 March 2005

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

 

 

Professor YUEN Kwok-yung, SBS, JP

(Chairman)

 

Mr CHAN Bing-woon, SBS, JP

 

 

Dr Helen CHAN

 

 

Dr John HO

 

 

Mr HUNG Hak-hip, Peter

 

 

Dr Anthony Edward JAMES

 

 

Prof KWAN Hoi-shan

 

 

Mr KWOK Chun-wah, Jimmy, MH

 

 

Mr LAI Tat-sang, David, MH

 

 

Ms Leona Lam, JP

 

 

Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace

 

 

Dr LO Wing-lok, JP

 

 

Mr Thomas CHAN

 

Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and    Conservation

 

Mr Gregory LEUNG

Director of Food and Environmental     Hygiene

Miss Vivian KO

 

Secretary of the Advisory Council on     Food and Environmental Hygiene

 

 

Absent with Apologies

 

Mr LEE Luen-wai, John, JP

 

Dr LO King-shun

 

Dr LUI Chui-tong, Jacqueline

 

Mrs Carrie YAU

 

Permanent Secretary for Health,               Welfare and Food

Dr P Y LAM

Director of Health

 

In Attendance

 

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

 

Mr Eddy CHAN

Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food

Mr Vincent LIU

Principal Assistant Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food

Mr Wallace LAU

Assistant Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food

Miss SHEA Wing-man

Assistant Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food

Mr Louis NG

Senior Executive Officer (Food and Environmental Hygiene)

 

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

 

Ms Annette LEE

Deputy Director (Environmental                       Hygiene)

 

Dr S P MAK

Deputy Director (Food and Public                   Health)

 

Dr Philip Y Y HO

Consultant (Community Medicine)(Risk Assessment & Communication)

 

Dr Thomas CHUNG

Assistant Director (Food Surveillance             and Control)

 

Mr LO Fu-wai

Assistant Director (Operations) 1

 

 

Department of Health

 

Dr L Y TSE

Consultant (Community Medicine)                  (Non-Communicable Disease)

 

Buildings Department

 

Mr T C KAN

Senior Professional Officer/JO

 

 

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 without amendment.

 

 

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

 

3.          There was no matter arising from the minutes of the last meeting.

 

 

Agenda Item 3: Comprehensive Plan of Action to Deal With the Global Problem of Avian Influenza

 

4.          The Chairman invited Ms Vivian KO to present the paper.

 

5.          A Member remarked that apart from the trade��s view he had expressed before, he would like to share his personal views on the measures proposed in the paper.  Firstly, he said that the Government should clearly communicate to the public the reasons for the proposed measures, particularly the need for compulsory termination.  Secondly, he commended the report prepared by the Centre for Health Protection and recommended more publicity on its observations/findings to gain public support.  Lastly, he stressed the need to address the concerns of the live poultry trade even though they were only the minority in the society.  Commenting on the future live poultry supply, the Member forewarned that the catering industry would suffer if there was a suspension of live chicken supply.  He urged the Government to consider importing freshly slaughtered chickens from the Mainland.  He also estimated that the Mainland would dominate the supply of chilled/frozen chickens due to commercial considerations, so the Government should critically assess the possible food safety risk with reference made to overseas experience.  In addition, sufficient labeling requirements for different types of chickens should also be put in place to protect consumer right.

 

6.          In response to the Member��s comments on food safety risk, Mr Eddy CHAN confirmed that the Government had assessed the risk of central slaughtering vis-�j-vis slaughtering in wet markets.  The conclusion showed that with proper management, the risk of the former was much lower than the latter.  He undertook to closely examine the licensing regime and operation of local slaughterhouses and would address the issues arise in the course of implementing the proposed measures.  Mr Gregory LEUNG supplemented that study visits had already been made to different countries practising central/regional slaughtering.  As regards the concern on the catering industry, he explained that apart from live chickens, Hong Kong people were also consuming about 60,000 chilled/frozen chickens and large amount of frozen chicken parts per day.

 

7.          Mr Gregory LEUNG expressed doubt on the feasibility of importing freshly slaughtered poultry from the Mainland because of the physical distance and the time required for crossing the boundary.  As such, he considered that the local slaughtering plant had unique competitive edge in supplying freshly slaughtered poultry to the local catering sector.  He undertook to closely monitor the development in future.

 

8.          A Member supported the proposed measures and applauded the Government��s pro-active approach to curb avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong.  She and some other members advocated that the pilot scheme should entail testing of advanced slaughtering technology, such as nitrogen chilling.  Mr Eddy CHAN affirmed that the current intention was that the slaughtering plant should adopt advanced slaughtering technology. Some members pointed out the need for more public education and promotion on the threat of avian influenza.

 

9.          A Member said he had expected that the trade would feel strongly about the proposed measures.  He understood that the public had generally accepted the upcoming change to central/regional slaughtering.  He also acknowledged that the current focus of the tradewould be on the rate of the ex-gratia payment (EGP).  On the EGP, he reckoned that many live poultry farmers had put in considerable investment to improve biosecurity measures in their farms hence he enquired whether there would be any flexibility in adjusting the proposed EGP rates.  He also asked if live poultry would still be allowed for sale at retail markets after the regional slaughtering plant in the Western Wholesale Food Market started to operate.  Lastly, he shared the previous Member��s concern on the need to closely monitor the hygiene standards of different types of chicken supplied in Hong Kong.

 

10.        Mr Eddy CHAN explained that the EGP for live poultry farmers and wholesalers was calculated in accordance with the prevailing principle of development clearance of lands and had taken into account the element of permanent cessation of operation.  He welcomed counterproposals from the trade and undertook to consider if they were reasonable.  He further explained that the feasibility study for the proposed regional slaughtering plant would provide an assessment on this subject.  He cautioned that it would be hard to take drastic action against live poultry retailers but he said that the relevant policy and measures would be conveyed clearly to the potential investor(s).

 

11.        A Member also concurred with the proposed measures in general.  He suggested using the definition of ��part-time worker�� adapted by the Mandatory Provident Fund Authority in setting the eligibility for attending retraining courses and receiving the one-off grant.  He also echoed other members�� views on the need to step up promotion efforts on the threat of avian influenza.  Following up on the earlier discussion, he also agreed that the take up rate of the voluntary surrender scheme for live poultry retailers would be a determining factor for the commercial viability of the slaughtering plant.  He urged the Government to adopt more flexibility in planning for private sector participation in operating the slaughtering plant.

 

12.        Another Member mentioned that if it was the Government��s ultimate plan to prohibit live poultry farming and trading in Hong Kong, it should be made known to the public.  She was concerned that some farmers had made significant investment to improve farm biosecurity yet they were unclear about the Government��s view on their long-term development.  On EGP, she commented that the amount should be adequate to cover all incidental expenses for the cessation of business, including severance payment.

 

13.        Mr Eddy CHAN pointed out that the purpose of the paper was to highlight the possible risks faced by the local live poultry trade.  While there was no plan to displace the live poultry trade at this stage, it was prudent to highlight the fact that Hong Kong was a small but densely populated city, thus posing constraints to the sustainable development of traditional livestock farming particularly with regard to present requirements to prevent environmental pollution and to protect public health.  Given the gloomy prospect, existing live poultry operators should reconsider if they still wanted to stay in the trade in view of the uncertainties and escalating risks.  Another key message of the paper was to spell out the need for changing the existing modus operandi of the trade and implementing regional slaughtering in Hong Kong.

 

14.        A Member supported the proposed measures and suggested that they should be reiterated in different forums.  She asked how the Government would deal with those live poultry traders who remained in business after the deadline of the voluntary surrender scheme and how to stop live chickens from being smuggled from the Mainland.  In view of the abundance of cross-boundary travelers, she also asked what measures had been put in place by the Government to prevent the spread of infectious diseases between Hong Kong and the Mainland.

 

15.        Mr Eddy CHAN replied that the Government would review the situation in July this year when the voluntary surrender scheme for live poultry retailers would end and would be prepared to consider if an extension was necessary.  Mr Gregory LEUNG said that to date the take up rate of the scheme was 28%.  He agreed that there should be a holistic assessment of the situation nearer the time of the deadline.  Dr L Y TSE then introduced the existing surveillance and public education programmes for influenza and other infectious diseases launched by the Department of Health.  Mr Thomas CHAN also explained that the capacity of local farms would be reduced by administrative means if this could not be achieved by the voluntary surrender scheme for poultry farmers.

 

16.        Commenting on the EGP scheme, a Member asked if unlicensed farms structure existed for a long time would be included in the EGP.  He also queried whether the Government has planned to implement similar surrender scheme for other livestock-keeping operators, such as pig breeders and butchers, in the future.  Mr Thomas CHAN confirmed that the EGP calculation would only take into account those structure recognised by the Lands Department.  He said that live poultry farmers were aware that the existing biosecurity requirements were the best possible defense under existing confines hence if avian influenza outbreak still took place in farms, there would be no alternative but to depopulate all chickens and prohibit live poultry farming and trading in Hong Kong.  He reiterated that those who chose to stay in the business should be well aware of such risk.

 

17.        A Member corroborated the policy to reduce the chicken population in Hong Kong.  He also commended that using consecutive outbreaks as trigger point for depopulation of live poultry was more scientific that using a deadline.  He also suggested the Government to closely monitor the launching of any new vaccine so as to avoid being accused of failing to protect the trade proactively.  On the EGP scheme for live poultry retailers, he advocated to extend the deadline but urged the Government to tighten the licensing conditions so as to put both carrot and stick in place.  As regards the implementation of regional slaughtering, he cautioned that the Government should have a clear policy ready before approaching potential investors.  Mr Thomas CHAN responded that his department had been maintaining close dialogues with vaccine producers.

 

 

Agenda Item 4: Joint Office on Water Seepage

 

18.        The Chairman invited Mr T C KAN to present the paper. 

 

19.        A Member opined that under the existing ordinances, the greatest difficulty was to prove the source and cause of water seepage.  He suggested learning from overseas countries like Singapore where implicated parties shared the cost equally.  He also queried the effectiveness of using ��colour dye test�� and quoted some real cases in which the parties concerned had put in a huge amount of money for legal proceedings.  On the proposal to set up a tribunal for adjudicating disputes on water seepage, he queried if it would duplicate the work of the Lands Tribunal and counter-proposed that mediation be used as the first approach to resolve disputes.

 

20.        Another Member considered that water seepage was a health problem that should be addressed expediently.  Besides, the Joint Office should also examine the bacterial content of water seepage.  In view of the large number of complaints received, he proposed that the tribunal be set up as soon as possible to handle these cases.  Mr T C KAN replied that bacterial examination, which required particular expertise, was beyond the Joint Office��s scope of work.  As regards the setting up of the tribunal, he reported that his office was now assessing the relevant implications to the public.  If a decision was made to set up the tribunal, relevant legislative work would then be initiated.  Meanwhile, implicated parties could also refer their cases to the Small Claims Tribunal.

 

21.        Mr Gregory LEUNG elucidated that the key function of the Joint Office was to coordinate the efforts of different departments so as to expedite the process.  In the longer term, the problem of water seepage should be tackled by other more fundamental means, e.g. banning all hidden ducts, etc.  He remarked that as an immediate measure, the Government would continue to provide better service at the Joint Office.  The next step was to explore other feasible means for settling disputes, such as by mediation and arbitration.  In the long run, it would be prudent to consider how to amend the building laws or code to prevent water seepage rather than relying on remedial measures..

 

22.        In response to a question on technology used in detecting water seepage, Mr Gregory LEUNG explained that while colour-dye was current being used in source-tracing, experience showed that it was very difficult to locate the source of seepage in multi-storey buildings.

 

23.        A Member welcomed the setting up of the Joint Office because it could help access to the suspected source of water seepage.  In addition to resolving disputes, he also thought that the Joint Office could help encourage people to proactively resolve the problem and as a result help protect public health, improve building management and enhance public safety.  In the future, he suggested the Joint Office could also educate the public by presenting real cases and reminding all owners of their civil liability in water seepage cases.

 

 

Agenda Item 5: Any Other Business

 

24.        Since this was the last meeting of the current term of the Advisory Council for Food and Environmental Hygiene, the Chairman expressed his gratitude to Members�� support in the past two years.  He said that the secretariat would inform Members in due course regarding the arrangement for the next tenure.

 

 

25.        There being no other business, the meeting adjourned at 5:24 p.m. 

 

 

 

Secretariat

Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

March 2005

  

 

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