Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Confirmed Minutes of the Thirteenth Meeting
held at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, 30 May 2002
at Room 1007, 10/F Citibank Tower, Garden Road


Dr TSE Chi-wai, Daniel (Chairman)
Mr CHAN Bing-woon �@
Dr HO Dit-sang, John
Dr Anthony Edward JAMES
Miss Leonie KI
Professor KWAN Hoi-shan
Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace
Dr Ronald LEUNG
Mr LO Yau-lai, Winston
Professor MA Ching-yung
Professor YUEN Kwok-yung
Mrs Lily YAM Secretary for the Environment and Food
Mr Thomas CHAN Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Mrs Rita LAU Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene
Mrs Ingrid YEUNG Secretary

Absent with Apologies

Mr Peter HUNG
Mr KAN Chung-nin, Tony
Mr Eddy LI
Mr LEE Luen-wai, John
Dr the Hon LO Wing-lok
Dr Margaret CHAN Director of Health

In Attendance

Environment and Food Bureau

Mrs Stella HUNG Deputy Secretary for the Environment and Food
Mrs Pauline LING Secretariat Press Officer

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

Dr S P MAK Deputy Director (Food and Public Health)
Dr Y Y HO Consultant (Community Medicine)
(Risk Assessment and Communication)

Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

Dr K K LIU Deputy Director
Dr Les SIMS Assistant Director (Quarantine & Inspection)

Department of Health

Dr L Y TSE Consultant (Community Medicine)

Opening Remarks

The Chairman welcomed Members to the meeting.

Agenda Item 1: Confirmation of Minutes of Last Meeting

2. Members confirmed the minutes of the last meeting

Agenda Item 2 : Matters arising from Minutes of Last Meeting

3. The Chairman reminded Members that an information paper on the greening policy was circulated after the last meeting.

4. Mrs Yam said that the Environment and Food Bureau was now assuming a coordinating role in greening and related matters. However, there would be redistribution of portfolios of the policy secretaries under the accountability system and the Environment and Food Bureau would no longer exist. The greening coordination work would therefore be taken up by a new authority to be determined.

5. Mrs Yam said that she would retire on 1 July 2002 and thanked the Chairman and Members for their contributions and invaluable advice on food and environmental hygiene matters in the past two years. The Chairman on behalf of the Advisory Council wished Mrs Yam all the best after retirement.

Agenda Item 3: Report of the Investigation Team on the 2002 Avian Influenza Outbreak

6. The Chairman said that the purpose of the paper was to present the findings and recommendations of the Investigation Team on the 2002 Avian Influenza Outbreak. Dr Sims made a power point presentation on the paper.

7. In response to a Member's query, Mr Thomas CHAN said that the Investigation Team recognised that many of its recommendations would have financial implications on the live chicken farmers and traders or affect their existing operation. It was essential to secure their cooperation for the implementation of the recommendations. The Investigation Team had therefore recommended the Administration to start consulting the trade as soon as possible.

8. Mrs Yam said that in order to ensure that balanced views were collected during the consultation, the Administration would in the coming three months seek the views of the trade, various medical and professional public health associations and the public before formulating a long-term solution to further reduce the likelihood of H5N1 avian influenza outbreaks. Since there was always a possibility that H5N1 avian influenza viruses might reassort into a type that could affect human health, it was crucial to take into account the potential risk posed to public health by such outbreaks when considering the long-term solution. Another Member agreed.

9. Addressing a Member's question, Dr Sims said that the Investigation Team had drawn on the case-control study conducted jointly by the University of Hong Kong and the Massey University, New Zealand to assess the possible factors which had played a significant role in the spread of infection in the outbreak. Although it was not possible to draw a definite conclusion due to the limitations on the data available, the Investigation Team considered that factors including day old chickens, livestock feed, faecal waste collection bins, wild birds, overstocking and smuggled birds were unlikely to be significant risk factors.

10. A Member asked why the introduction of an additional rest day in retail markets per month could help reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks in farms. Dr Sims replied that the Investigation Team recognised that reducing the risk H5N1 avian influenza posed to public health was an over-arching goal although it was not specifically stated in the terms of reference for the investigation. As shown by regular surveillance results, the monthly rest days had been effective in reducing the virus load at retail markets. To safeguard public health, the Investigation Team therefore recommended to introduce an additional rest day to further reduce the virus load at markets.

11. A Member remarked that since the measures recommended by the Investigation Team could not eliminate the risk of future avian influenza outbreaks completely and would add costs on the live poultry farmers and traders, there was bound to be objection to the measures from the trade. He considered that the most effective way to resolve the avian influenza problem was to expedite the importation of chilled chickens from the Mainland. This would significantly reduce the demand for live poultry and the volume of this trade, which in turn would reduce the risk of H5N1 infection.

12. Mr Thomas CHAN said that the Investigation Team recognised at the outset that H5N1 avian influenza viruses existed as part of nature and could not be eliminated. The Investigation Team therefore targeted at measures to further reduce the likelihood of future outbreaks.

13. In response to a Member's query, Dr Sims said that the large number of live chickens traded daily provided a favourable condition for avian influenza viruses to flourish and thrive. Introducing an additional monthly rest day could help reduce the virus load at retail markets. Another Member supported the recommendation.

14. A Member said that being a member of the Expert Group on Avian Influenza, he fully supported the Investigation Team's recommendations as they would help reduce the chances for avian influenza viruses to multiply, thus further lowering the risk of future outbreaks.

15. The Chairman reminded Members that the Administration would collect views on the Investigation Team's recommendations in the coming three months before formulating a long-term solution to the avian flu problem. Any further views were welcomed to be sent to the Administration.

Agenda Item 4 : Food Research Laboratory

16. The Chairman said that the purpose of the paper was to brief Members on the role, functions and scope of service of the newly established Food Research Laboratory (FRL) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). Dr Y Y HO presented the paper.

17. A Member welcomed the establishment of the FRL to provide dedicated laboratory service to support the work of risk assessment and food standard setting. He asked how the laboratory staff were trained to equip with the scientific knowledge to conduct researches and studies in these areas. Dr Mak replied that the FRL was now staffed by a team of professional officers including chemists, laboratory technicians, food scientists and nutritionists. From time to time, these professional officers would attend the meetings, symposia and training courses organised by Codex and other international food safety organisations to keep abreast of the development and knowledge in risk assessment and food standards. The Member said that the Food and Drug Administration and some universities of the US had started to organize more specialized courses on risk assessment.

18. A Member asked why no microbiological risk analyses on food items would be conducted at the FRL bearing in mind that most of the food incidents occurred in Hong Kong were caused by microorganisms. Mrs Lau said that FEHD had accorded priority in setting up microbiological limits for food commodities so as to ensure food safety. In this regard, the department had set up an expert panel to provide advice and scientific expertise regarding microbiological safety of food. As regards laboratory service for analysing microbiological components of food, it was provided by the Department of Health.

19. A Member suggested that the FRL should provide laboratory service for analysing microbiological components of food in the long run. In response, Mrs Lau and Dr Mak said that for better utilization of resources, different laboratories would play different roles in enhancing food safety. The Government Laboratory would mainly provide chemical analytical services for testing of food for law enforcement purposes, whereas the Institute of Pathology of the Department of Health would focus on microbiological analyses. The FRL would however play a distinct role by conducting chemical studies and researches for the purposes of risk assessment and food standard setting.

20. A Member asked whether the Administration had any plan to develop the FRL as a centre of excellence to develop food standard applicable to the local situation. Mrs Lau replied that it was a long-term target for the FRL to develop itself into a well-known and professional laboratory. However, as most of the food commodities consumed in Hong Kong were imported and the local market was very small, Hong Kong needed to follow the food standards adopted internationally.

21. A Member remarked that he welcomed the FEHD's move to establish the Food Reach Laboratory in response to the World Health Organization's call for a risk-based and proactive food safely control model, and that he was in support of the Department's effort and dedication in strengthening the scientific basis for food safety control work in Hong Kong. He, however, found it quite perplexing that some of the planned projects to be undertaken by FRL seemed to give the impression that valuable resources were not put to appropriate use under the principle of "Value for money". The Member pointed out, for example, that caffeine was a naturally present substance in tea and coffee and that the positive and negative health implications associated with the consumption of these beverages had been widely studied and documented by the world's medical community. As the presence of caffeine could not be easily checked by most of the larger commercial laboratories in Hong Kong by using either HPLC or GC methods, he failed to see why the FRL that was established for measuring complex and sophisticated compounds should devote itself to testing caffeine in beverages.

22. In response to the Member's query, Mrs Lau explained again the functions of the Food Research Laboratory which conducts service related research aiming to support risk assessment and communication work. The FRL planned to conduct a variety of survey projects including dietary exposure studies of the community to various food hazards such as artificial sweeteners in drinks. The study on caffeine in drinks was a joint study with the Consumer Council, a collaborative effort to make more cost-effective use of public resources. She said that purpose of the survey project on caffeine in drinks was to collect information on the in-take of caffeine of the general public and to give health tips on the consumption of caffeinated drinks for education purpose. As regards 3-MCPD in soya sauce, some related overseas studies had aroused public concern and it was therefore worth coordinating a similar study on soya sauce available in the local market for consumers' interest.

23. In response to a Member's query, Mrs Lau said that FEHD would disseminate the findings of the survey projects and the risk assessment studies to the public through press conferences and posting of the information on FEHD's homepage.

24. Mrs Lau invited Members to visit the FRL in June. The Secretariat would contact Members shortly for the arrangement.

Agenda Item 6: Any Other Business

25. The Secretariat would inform Members of the date of the next meeting later.

26. There being no other issues, the meeting ended at 4:15 p.m.

Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
Environment and Food Bureau
June 2002