Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
PROPOSED NEW REGULATION TO CONTROL THE FEEDING OF DRUGS AND CHEMICALS TO FOOD ANIMALS
This paper seeks Members' views on the proposed legislative control on the feeding of drugs and chemicals to food animals.
- Feeding drugs and chemicals to food animals can leave residues in meat, offal and other animal parts. It is necessary to ensure that these food items remain safe for human consumption. However, there is currently no specific legislation to regulate the feeding of drugs and chemicals to food animals. There is also no control on the quality of animal feed supplied.
- The need to control the feeding of drugs and chemicals to food animals has become apparent with the occurrence of Clenbuterol poisoning in the past few years. At the moment, the problem is brought under control through the measures implemented with the agreement of the food animal industry and the Mainland authorities. A short note on the present control measures is at the Annex. The percentage of pork and offal samples found positive of Clenbuterol residues decreased from 6.6% in 1998 (out of a total of 3,100 food surveillance samples) to 1% in 1999 (out of a total of 3,600 samples). However, the situation is not totally satisfactory due to lack of specific legislative support aimed at tackling the problem at source.
- Section 52 and section 54 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance make it an offence to sell food which is unfit for human consumption, or not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser. The Ordinance, however, imposes no specific safety standard on residues of drugs and chemicals (except for the prohibition of the use of four hormones as listed in the Harmful Substances in Food Regulations) in meat and other food products of animal origin, e.g. eggs and milk. Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) has to prove to the court on each occasion that the presence of residues of particular drugs and chemicals in meat or other animal food products is indeed to the prejudice of a purchaser in order to prosecute the sellers of the products. However, the law does not provide for the tracing back of the responsibility to the origin of the problem, i.e. the farm level.
- The Antibiotics Ordinance specifically excludes feeding antibiotics to animals from its control. The Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance prevents the use of unregistered pharmaceuticals but does not regulate their usage as feed additives once registered.
- We propose to introduce a new regulation under the Public Health (Animals and Birds) Ordinance to introduce control on the feeding of drugs and chemicals to food animals including fish. The new regulation will provide for the following:
- to stipulate a list of prohibited chemicals, and a list of other drugs and chemicals together with the respective "Maximum Residue Limits" in meat and tissues;
- to create offences for feeding food animals with prohibited chemicals, or other drugs and chemicals exceeding the "Maximum Residue Limits" at slaughter;
- to forbid the possession of prohibited chemicals and the supply of animal feed containing prohibited chemicals;
- to require animal feed suppliers to list the names and respective amounts of chemicals contained in their products, the instructions for use and the withholding period. This is to ensure farmers have a clear idea of what they are feeding to their food animals;
- to require farmers to identify their food animals by tattoo or tags where practicable to enable Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) to trace back to the farm of origin;
- to require pre-export testing of and certification for imported food animals by the competent veterinary authority of the exporting countries/places to ensure that these animals do not contain prohibited chemicals or residues of drugs and chemicals in excess of the "Maximum Residue Levels". At present, the procedure already applies to pigs, cattle and goats as an administrative arrangement agreed with the Mainland authorities;
- to empower Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation (DAFC) to suspend temporarily the import and sale of food animals and animal feed suspected of contamination to allow for further investigation; and
- to empower the court to order suspension of sale of food animals by a food animal keeper who has been convicted of feeding food animals with prohibited chemicals or other drugs and chemicals exceeding their "Maximum Residue Limits" at slaughter.
- The list of prohibited chemicals will cover Clenbuterol and related compounds, artificial hormones that are known to cause cancer, and antibiotics that should be reserved for fighting serious human diseases or to prevent the emergence of resistant pathogens. We will also determine the other drugs and chemicals to be brought under control and a "Maximum Residue Limit" to be set in line with the international practice.
- To facilitate more effective enforcement against sellers of meat containing prohibited chemicals or residues of other drugs and chemicals exceeding the "Maximum Residue Limits", the Harmful Substances in Food Regulations of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance would also be amended simultaneously to incorporate the above-mentioned safety standards. With stipulation of prohibited chemicals and specific standards on residues of other drugs and chemicals in the legislation, more effective law enforcement could be carried out as the authority would no longer rely solely on section 52 or section 54 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance as discussed in paragraph 4 above.
- We plan to introduce control on drugs and chemicals in phases to allow time for farmers, related traders and importers to adjust to the control. We will first introduce control on prohibited chemicals and the "Maximum Residue Limits" of common antibiotics. We will then bring in control on other drugs and chemicals including anthelmintics, growth promotants, pesticides and environmental contaminants. AFCD will prepare guidelines on the use of drugs and chemicals to facilitate compliance by farmers.
- We plan to start public consultation on the proposed regulation in August. This will involve farmers, food animal traders and importers, animal feed traders and importers, veterinarians and public health professionals. We will inform Hong Kong's trading partners in food animals of the proposed requirements. We aim to introduce the regulation into the Legislative Council in the next legislative session.
- Members are invited to comment on the legislative control proposed in paragraphs 6 - 8 above.
Environment and Food Bureau
Present Control Measures on Clenbuterol Poisoning
Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has already put in place a voluntary pig tattooing, testing and tracing system to stop Clenbuterol-contaminated pork and offal from reaching the retail outlets. Under the system, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) collects urine samples from the pigs at the slaughterhouse for AFCD to conduct laboratory tests to screen for Clenbuterol residues. If such residues are found in pig urine samples, it indicates that the whole batch of pigs with the same tattoo number may have been fed with the prohibited drug. Depending on the level of Clenbuterol residues, carcasses and offal of the same batch of pigs would be detained or destroyed. If meat traders decide to postpone slaughtering, the pigs concerned are kept in the slaughterhouse. They are slaughtered only after further urine tests show negative results.
- Based on the tattoo number, AFCD can trace the farm of origin of each pig and take appropriate follow-up actions, with a view to safeguarding public health. If problems are found with the imported pigs, FEHD will inform the Mainland authorities for follow-up actions. In addition, AFCD will, in conjunction with Department of Health (DH), continue to inspect local pig farms suspected of using Clenbuterol.
- If pig farmers are found to be in possession of the prohibited drug, prosecutions under regulation 36 of the Pharmacy and Poisons Regulations will be considered. AFCD will also continue to educate local farmers on the proper use of animal feeds. In addition, FEHD prosecutes the retailers selling contaminated pork and offal under Section 52 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. 23 such cases were found in 1999 and prosecution actions have been taken accordingly. The offenders are liable to a maximum fine of $10,000 and three-month imprisonment.