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Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

 

Confirmed Minutes of the Twenty-ninth Meeting

held at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 6 December 2005

at Room 2005, 20/F, Murray Building, Garden Road, Central

 

 

Professor YUEN Kwok-yung, SBS, JP

(Chairman)

Dr. CHAN Hei-ling, Helen

 

Mr. FONG Wo, Felix, JP

 

Dr. Anthony Edward JAMES

 

Mr. KWOK Chun-wah, Jimmy, MH

 

Ms. LAM Wai-ling, Leona, JP

 

Dr. LO Chi-kin, JP

 

Dr. LO Wing-lok, JP

 

Dr. TANG Shuk-ming, Winnie

 

Dr. York CHOW

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food

Miss Susie HO

Acting Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food

Mr. Johnson TANG

 

Acting Secretary of the Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

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Absent with Apologies

 

Professor HO Suk-ching, Sara

 

Mr. HUNG Hak-hip, Peter

 

Professor KWAN Hoi-shan

 

Miss LAM Chui-lin

 

Mrs. LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace

 

Dr. LO King-shun

 

Dr. WONG Sin-ying, Lillian

 

Mrs. Carrie YAU

Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food

Mr. Thomas CHAN

Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation

Mr. Gregory LEUNG

Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene

Dr. P Y LAM

Director of Health

 

 

In Attendance

 

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

 

Mr. Vincent LIU

Acting Deputy Secretary (Food and Environmental Hygiene)

Mr. Louis NG

Senior Executive Officer (Food and    Environmental Hygiene)

 

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

 

Ms Wendy KO

Senior Agricultural Officer (Regulatory)

 

Dr. Eric TAI

Acting Senior Veterinary Officer (Farm)

 

 

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

 

Ms. Annette LEE

Deputy Director (Environmental Hygiene)

 

 

Dr. Thomas CHUNG

 

Assistant Director (Food Surveillance      and Control)

 

 

Department of Health

 

Dr. L. Y. TSE

Head, Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch

 

 

 

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 amendments.

 

 

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

 

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

 

4.            The Chairman invited Dr. Thomas CHUNG to update Members on the development regarding the importation of US beef.  Members were last briefed on the subject in June 2005.

 

5.            Dr. CHUNG informed Members that since June 2005, Hong Kong had held intensive discussions with the US authorities on the necessary improvements to the US BSE management programme in order to ensure safety of its beef for export to Hong Kong.

 

 

6.            Dr. CHUNG informed that since the absence of a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) in the US for cattle had been the major obstacle to the resumption of US beef exports to Hong Kong, both sides focused on ways to allow exports of beef from processing plants which would be able to trace their cattle to their farm of origin.  The US had eventually also agreed to export only beef from cattle under 30 months of age after hygienically removing high risk materials at designated processing plants.  In addition, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and Health, Welfare and Food Bureau (HWFB) officials had traveled to the US to conduct site inspections of the farms and beef processing plants.

 

7.            Dr. CHUNG told Members that the US and Hong Kong were close to reaching an agreement to partially lift the import suspension on US beef in the near term.  The conditions to be imposed on US beef would be similar to those imposed on Canadian beef and, more importantly, in accordance with the latest guideline issued by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

 

8.            A Member expressed concern on possible loopholes in the partial cattle tracing system now proposed by the US authorities which would rely on gate-keeping by selected processing plants rather than a NAIS.  He suggested that the Administration should not rush to become the first area / country to re-import US beef.

 

9.            Echoing the concern of the Member, another Member had doubts on the partial tracing systems undertaken by the exporting processing plants and questioned whether the system could provide the level of assurance offered by other more extensive tracing systems such as those in the EU and Australia.  The fact that US cattle were often shipped across state boundaries a few times during their life for various purposes certainly did not help.  In reply, Dr. CHUNG appreciated the concern and pointed out that only processing plants which could trace the origin of the cattle they processed would be able to export beef to Hong Kong. 

 

10.          Summing up, the Chairman concluded that some Members had doubts on the effectiveness of the proposed arrangement in terms of ensuring the safety of US beef for human consumption.   He urged the Administration to take more time to arrive at a more watertight system before bringing in US beef again.  In response, Dr. CHUNG assured the meeting that the FEHD would closely monitor the implementation of the agreed import protocol and ensure that it would be effectively enforced.

 

 

Agenda Item 3 : Regulation of Backyard farming

 

11.          The Chairman invited Mr. Johnson TANG to introduce the paper.

 

12.          A Member noted that there had yet to be an accurate picture of the population size of backyard poultry and this would render it difficult to estimate the resources required to regulate the birds.  He suggested that the voluntary vaccination scheme, which only started in November, be given more time as a way to gauge the rough size of the backyard poultry and the profile of their owners before formulating a scheme to regulate them or develop other alternate ways to tackle the problem.

 

13.          Another Member, while extending his support to regulating backyard poultry farms, asked for details on the Administration��s options in regulating background poultry.  Another Member suggested that in view of the worsening spread of avian influenza, there was urgency in tackling the problem, perhaps by licensing the birds.

 

14.          The Chairman noted that quite a few cases of H5N1 outbreaks in the region had started in non-commercial farms.  Citing a New Zealand scientist who had in a recent assessment rated backyard poultry in Hong Kong as medium risk, he believed that the problem could not be ignored.  He suggested that a programme to encourage farmers to offer their poultry for free vaccination, and to report dead poultry, would be useful as a start.  He warned, however, against taking a heavy handed approach which might backfire by driving backyard poultry farming underground and worsen the problem as a result.  Adding an education component to the package might be a better option, he noted.

 

15.          A Member observed that the free vaccination programme had a low take-up rate probably because the birds were meant for the owners�� consumption and most owners would prefer unvaccinated poultry. She was keenly aware of the limitation of licensing which would entail a lot of work and require considerable resources to implement.  She therefore also supported a enhanced education programme for backyard poultry farmers urging them to adopt basic biosecurity measures in order to prevent contacts between backyard poultry and wild birds etc.

 

16.          Dr. York CHOW clarified that the AFCD would not want to go down the route of licensing right away but would consider registering the backyard chicken farmers by launching an effective education / publicity programme in parallel with free vaccination. Resource implications and detail planning of enforcement would first need to be drawn up by the AFCD before a concrete plan forward could be considered.

 

 

Agenda Item 4 : Any Other Business

 

17.          The Chairman invited Dr. York CHOW to brief Members on the latest development in the reorganization of the FEHD and AFCD to form a new department to take care of food safety regulatory work.  Dr CHOW cited the lack of consensus among LegCo Members and relevant stakeholders on the way forward as a major challenge in the reorganization plan.  In view of this, the reorganization proposal might be revised and the LegCo Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene would need to be consulted again.  He undertook to consult the Council on the revised proposal so that Members could contribute their views on the project.

 

18.          There being no other business, the meeting adjourned at around 4:30 p.m.

 

 

 

Secretariat

Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

December 2005

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