Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Confirmed Minutes of the Second Meeting
held at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, 6 July 2000
at Room 1007, 10/F Citibank Tower, Garden Road

Dr TSE Chi-wai,
Mr CHAN Bing-woon
Dr HO Dit-sang, John
Mr KAN Chung-nin, Tony
Miss KI Man-fung, Leonie
Professor KWAN Hoi-shan
Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace
Mr LEE Luen-wai, John
Dr LEUNG Ding-bong, Ronald
Dr LO Wing-lok
Mr LO Yau-lai, Winston
Professor MA Ching-yung
Professor YUEN Kwok-yung
Mrs Lily YAM
Mrs Lessie WEI
Mrs Rita LAU
Miss Pamela LAM

Secretary for the Environment and Food
Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene

Absent with Apologies

Mr CHEN Shu-lin, Mark
Dr Margaret CHAN                        Director of Health

In Attendance

Environment and Food Bureau

Mr Paul TANG
Miss Dora FU
Ms Eva TO
     Deputy Secretary (A)
     Principal Assistant Secretary (A) 2
     Principal Assistant Secretary (A) 3

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

Dr K K LIU      Assistant Director (Agriculture, Quarantine and Inspection)

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

Miss Sarah WU
Dr Mabel YEUNG
Miss Linda LAW
     Deputy Director (Environmental Hygiene)
     Deputy Director (Food and Public Health)
     Assistant Director (Food Surveillance and Control) (Acting)
     Senior Administrative Officer (Food and Public Health)

Department of Health

Dr K H MAK      Consultant (Community Medicine)

Opening Remarks

     The Chairman welcomed all to the meeting, especially Mr Winston LO who attended for the first time.

Agenda Item 1: Confirmation of Minutes of Last Meeting

  1. The Chairman said that the draft minutes had been sent to Members on 25 May 2000. The Secretariat had not received any comments. As Members did not propose any amendments at the meeting, the minutes were confirmed.

Agenda Item 2: Proposed New Regulation to Control the Feeding of Drugs and Chemicals to Food Animals

  1. Miss Fu presented the paper. She said that the need to control feeding chemicals and drugs to food animals became apparent when a number of food poisoning cases were found to be caused by clenbuterol residues in pig offal. Government had then introduced a pig tattooing, testing and tracing system after consultation with the industry and the Mainland authorities to tackle the problem. Both local and imported pigs were required to bear tattoo marks to show their farms of origin. They were also subject to urine tests before slaughtering.

  2. While the system and several other ordinances might provide basic control over the feeding of drugs and chemicals to food animals, the lack of a specific regulation made prosecutions and enforcement work less efficient and effective. Government therefore proposed to make a new regulation under the Public Health (Animals and Birds) Ordinance and to amend the Harmful Substances in Food Regulations under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance.

  3. A Member asked for the definition of "food animals" in the proposed legislation. He also wished to know more about the measures to educate pig farmers and publicize the importance of proper use of veterinary drugs. Miss Fu acknowledged the need for education and publicity. Dr Liu explained that in this context, "food animals" referred to vertebrates which were commonly used as food, including fish, frogs, reptiles, mammals and birds. He said that the term would be carefully defined in the proposed regulation. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) had started educating pig farmers on the proper use of drugs and chemicals in feeding food animals. Guidelines would be published and professional advice would be given to the farmers. In addition, AFCD would also monitor the trend of malpractices, taking into account the food surveillance data collected by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).

  4. A Member asked if the source of pigs imported from the Mainland could be traced. Dr Liu replied in the affirmative. The authorities could trace back the farms of origin through the tattoo numbers.

  5. The Chairman remarked that cooperation with the Mainland in ensuring the supply of safe food animals was very important. Dr Liu said that a good working relationship had been established with the Mainland counterparts. Mrs Yam added that she had paid a visit to the State Administration for Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation in May. The Mainland authorities were committed to providing safe food for HKSAR and were directing a great deal of effort to achieving this objective.

  6. Mrs Lau said that AFCD and FEHD worked closely to ensure a comprehensive control from farm to table.

  7. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, Dr Liu said that it was intended to cover cultured fish in the new regulation. Source-tracing should be possible by referring to invoices and other trade documents. The Chairman also asked about the control on the use of toxic substances and explosives to catch fish. Mrs Wei said that such practices were regulated by existing legislation.

  8. A Member asked about the surveillance of other drug residues in food. Dr P Y LEUNG said that drug and chemical residues were covered by the present food surveillance system. However, control at the retail end was not a most cost-effective option. Therefore, the new regulation would provide for control at source.

  9. A Member wished to know Government's follow-up actions when food samples were found to contain drug residues. He also asked about the basis upon which the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation would decide to suspend the import of food animals, and whether HKSAR's trading partners had opposed to such a proposal. The Chairman said that as a Member of the World Trade Organization, HKSAR should not impose regulatory measures which might become barriers to trade.

  10. Dr Liu said that if pig urine samples were tested positive, the meat traders would be given a choice of either slaughtering the pigs and detaining the carcasses for further investigation, or keep the pigs in the lairage until further urine tests showed negative results. He added that the decision of the Director on suspension of import of food animals would be based on test results. A Member considered the proposal relatively fluid and more details had to be worked out. In response, Dr Liu said that the Administration would decide to suspend the import of live pigs when there was a reasonable ground for suspecting that they were contaminated. The suspension would be temporary. If the suspension was to be extended for a longer period, application to the magistrate's court would be necessary. Mrs Wei supplemented that during the Belgian dioxin crisis last year, Government could only rely on the trade's voluntary cooperation to suspend import and sale of animal feeds which might be contaminated. An explicit power to suspend import of food animals and animal feeds would be necessary to ensure that food animals and animal feeds suspected to be contaminated would not reach the retail level.

  11. Dr P Y LEUNG said that when positive results were found in the course of food surveillance, FEHD would trace the source of the pigs. He said that with the introduction of the tattooing, testing and tracing system, the number of positive samples and the levels of chemicals present had diminished significantly. Mrs Yam informed the meeting that there had been a number of successful prosecutions.

  12. A Member asked if any food recall would be initiated to withdraw the tainted pork and pig offal from the market. Dr P Y LEUNG said that such affected food items would usually be seized from the meat stalls and destroyed.

  13. Mrs Lau added that apart from the control measures implemented at licensed slaughter house, efforts were also directed to stamping out illegal import and illegal slaughtering of pigs. So far in this year, some 18 raiding operations had been mounted against illegal slaughterhouses and unlicensed meat roasting activities.

  14. A Member asked if HKSAR imported live pigs from countries other than the Mainland. Mrs Lau said that only a very small number of live pigs were imported from other countries for breeding purpose. This required the requisite approval from AFCD.

  15. A Member asked if the amendment to Harmful Substances in Food Regulations would also give the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (DFEH) the power to suspend import. Dr P Y LEUNG said that under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, DFEH could suspend the sale of food which was suspected to be unfit for human consumption and initiate prosecutions where necessary.

  16. A Member also noted that the list of substances to be regulated by the new legislation would be all-embracing. He asked if Government had the necessary analytical capacity to handle the additional testing work. Miss Fu said that the control would be implemented by phases. Initially, the focus of the regulation would be on prohibited chemicals and common antibiotics. Other chemicals would be considered to be added under the regulatory framework in a longer term. Dr P Y LEUNG supplemented that currently, there were enforcement actions against the presence of contaminants in food. Though there was no explicit standard about clenbuterol in food in existing laws, prosecutions were still possible under some general provisions.

  17. Mrs Yam explained that the existing food law provided general protection to the public. However, the Administration did not have the power to order a mandatory food recall even on safety grounds. Even though the trade would surrender the items concerned voluntarily to preserve consumer confidence, she considered that legislation to provide for mandatory recall would be needed.

  18. In response to a Member's question, Dr P Y LEUNG said that the standards to be adopted would be modelled on Codex Alimentarius' standards which were accepted internationally.

  19. A Member was concerned about the problem of antibiotic resistance. The use of an antibiotic in feeding animals might lead to human resistance to other antibiotics in the same category. He cited an example that avoparcin was once widely used in feeding poultry. Some believed that this had resulted in the emergence of vancomycin-resistant enterococci. Dr Liu said that the Administration would also draw reference to standards and practices in other countries including the European Union. The feeding of avoparcin to food animals would be regulated by the new legislation. AFCD would control the use of antibiotics at source, while FEHD would focus on monitoring the drug residues in meat.

  20. Mrs Yam suggested that a full list of drugs and chemicals to be covered by the proposed legislation should be tabled for the Advisory Council's consideration. A Member added that the future paper should include information on other countries' laws which enabled the suspension of import of suspected food animals and animal feeds.

Action: EFB, AFCD & FEHD

  1. The meeting agreed to the Administration's proposal in principle. It was noted that Government would start public consultation shortly.

Agenda Item 3: Amendments to Existing Food Labelling Requirements

  1. Dr P Y LEUNG presented the paper. He briefly introduced the six aspects covered by the existing food labelling regulations and proposed three amendments to the requirements. The three amendments were - (i) declaration of substances in food products which are known to cause allergy in some people; (ii) labelling of details of the food additives used; and (iii) allowing more flexibility in marking the "best before" and "use by" date.

  2. Mr Winston LO declared his interest as the Chairman and Managing Director of Vitasoy International Holdings Limited. A Member agreed in principle that HKSAR's food labelling regulations should be brought in line with international ones. He asked if the current proposal would only require manufacturers to indicate that the food contained soybeans, instead of stating that soybeans would cause allergy in some people. Dr P Y LEUNG confirmed his understanding was correct.

  3. Regarding the requirement that food with sulphite in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more to be labelled as such, a Member asked if 10 mg/kg referred to the amount used in the manufacturing process or the residual amount in the end-product. Dr P Y LEUNG said that the figure referred to the concentration of sulphite in the final food product. On the format of date-marking, a Member was concerned about the additional cost which the trade would have to bear in changing the format. In response, Mrs Lau said that the proposal aimed at giving the trade greater flexibility. A reasonable grace period would be allowed before the amendment regulation actually took effect.

  4. A Member asked whether food with less than 10 mg/kg sulphite concentration would need to be labelled. Dr P Y LEUNG said that in this case the requirement for allergenicity labelling would not apply, but the manufacturer might still need to declare the presence of sulphite if it performs a preservative function under the labelling requirement for food additives.

  5. A Member shared her experience of having allergic reactions after consuming food with preservatives. She asked how Government would strengthen the enforcement actions against breaches of the labelling requirements. Dr P Y LEUNG said that it would be important to educate the trade and the public about the new food labelling requirements. The trade would be allowed a two-year grace period to adapt to the new requirements.

  6. The meeting noted that food labelling requirements were only applicable to prepackaged food. After some discussions, Members suggested that the Administration should also consider the implications of the new labelling requirements on small-scale local food producers.

  7. A Member asked if the labelling of genetically modified food would be covered by the current proposal. Mrs Lau replied in the negative and said that it would be dealt with separately and members would be consulted in due course.

  8. Mrs Yam agreed that the Administration would need to consider carefully the timing of any new requirements, in order to minimize disruption to the trade's normal operations.

  9. A Member recalled that the former Regional Council had suggested that the telephone number of the food manufacturer or packer should also be stated on the labels. Mrs Lau said that not all companies would have the manpower to answer telephone enquiries, especially outside office hours. The general public could call the FEHD hotline if they had any questions about labelling requirements and complaints to make about the labels.

  10. A Member asked for the reasons for imposing labelling requirements only on prepackaged food. Dr P Y LEUNG said that this was in line with international practice. Another Member commented that food labels served as a means of communication between the manufacturers and consumers. For food which were not sold in a prepackaged form, there would usually be someone responsible to answer consumers' enquiries in respect of the food item sold on the spot.

  11. The meeting endorsed the proposed amendments in principle. Government would follow up the consultations with the trade and the public.

(In order to attend another meeting at 4:30 p.m., Mrs Wei left at this point.)

Agenda Item 4: Environmental Hygiene Services: An Overview

  1. Miss Wu made a presentation and introduced the environmental hygiene services provided by FEHD and highlighted the difficulties and improvements in certain areas. For instance, FEHD had worked closely with Buildings Department and Fire Services Department to expedite and streamline the food licensing process. The new performance pledge was that if the applicant could provide all necessary information, a provisional licence could be granted in about five weeks. A full licence could be granted in four to six months. A resource centre would also be set up in September to provide guidance and support to applicants of food premises licences. There were also plans to introduce legislation to enable the immediate closure of unhygienic food premises.

  2. A Member asked if FEHD would consider collecting different types of refuse separately. Miss Wu said that a working group had been set up by the Environment and Food Bureau to look into the issue. She told the meeting that waste separation was being implemented in public housing estates. Implementation in individual private residential buildings might be difficult due to the physical constraints. A Member asked if legislation was possible.

  3. In response to Members' concerns, Mrs Yam stated that Government also attached a great deal of importance to waste separation and recycling. She acknowledged the need to step up community participation and to improve coordination among relevant Government departments.

  4. Mr Chan declared his interest as a member of the Housing Authority, Housing Society and Eastern District Council. A Member suggested that in order to provide an incentive to real estate developers to provide more space for waste separation, the plot ratio should be amended. Besides, a higher rate of waste separation should be achieved by education as well as by penalty.

  5. In response, Mrs Yam said that the focus would first be on education. She doubted whether the community was ready to accept any mandatory measures at the present time.

(A Member left at this point.)

  1. A Member appreciated the review of the food premises licensing and inspection systems. But he thought the Demerit Point System should be reviewed. He acknowledged that the system might be useful in ensuring the hygienic standard of small-scale food premises. However, large-scale food factories, with their volumes of production, might be more susceptible to deduction of points. He agreed with FEHD that the future direction of control should be based on the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system.

  2. Mrs Lau said that the Demerit Point System should still have its role to play in regulating food premises. FEHD would look into ways for improvement in this aspect.

  3. A Member asked if FEHD had monitored the number of food premises implementing HACCP. Dr P Y LEUNG said that only a few food premises could fulfil all the requirements of HACCP. Other smaller-scale food premises could adopt HACCP-based food safety plans. FEHD was promoting HACCP to the food industry and would look into the possibility of incorporating it into the licensing system.

  4. A Member said that the Demerit Point System should still be useful in controlling the hygienic standards of food premises. As for licensing of food premises, he was glad to see the improvements made to expedite the process. He suggested that an interdepartmental working group might be set up to vet the applications. He also shared his experience about management of public toilets and hawkers, and health education. On the management of public toilets, another Member said that reference could be drawn from the design of the public toilet at Huanggang. The toilet was automatically flushed when the door of a compartment was opened.

  5. In response to a Member's further enquiry, Dr P Y LEUNG said that the exact number of food premises implementing HACCP in HKSAR was not available. A Member proposed that a system for monitoring the degree of instituting HACCP in food premises should be set up since HACCP was the key pro-active measure in the maintenance of food hygiene. In response to a Member's question, Dr P Y LEUNG added that in promoting HACCP, FEHD would give priority to high-risk sectors. For example, the current emphasis was on food factories preparing lunch boxes for schools. At the end of this year, food premises selling sushi and sashimi would be another focus.

Agenda Item 5: Any other business

  1. The Chairman said that the Advisory Council had visited Man Kam To Food Control Office on 24 June. After consulting Members, the Secretariat proposed that three other visits be arranged. The preliminary plan was to visit Government Laboratory and a food factory implementing HACCP in October and Tsuen Wan and Sheung Shui Slaughterhouses in December. The Secretariat would write to Members separately to fix the necessary details.

Agenda Item 6: Date of Next Meeting

  1. The next meeting was scheduled to be held at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, 14 September 2000.

  2. There being no other issues, the meeting was ended at 5:20 p.m.

Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
Environment and Food Bureau
September 2000