Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Confirmed Minutes of the Thirteenth Meeting
held at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, 11 October 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
Mr Peter HUNG
Dr Anthony Edward JAMES
Professor KWAN Hoi-shan
Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace
Mr LEE Luen-wai, John
Dr Ronald LEUNG
Mr Eddy LI
Dr the Hon LO Wing-lok
Professor MA Ching-yung
Professor YUEN Kwok-yung
Dr EK YEOH Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Dr Margaret CHAN Director of Health
Mr Thomas CHAN Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Mrs Marion LAI Acting Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene

Absent with Apologies

Miss Leonie KI
Mr LO Yau-lai, Winston
Mr KAN Chung-nin, Tony

Ms Priscilla TO Acting Secretary

In Attendance

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

Mrs Carrie YAU Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Mrs Ingrid YEUNG Acting Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (Food & Environmental Hygiene)
Mr David LAU Administrative Assistant to Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Mr Edward LAW Principal Assistant Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (Food and Environmental Hygiene) 2

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

Dr S P MAK Deputy Director (Food and Public Health)
Mr W H CHEUK Deputy Director (Environmental Hygiene)
Dr Y Y HO Consultant (Community Medicine)(Risk Assessment and Communication)
Dr Samuel YEUNG Senior Medical Officer (Risk Assessment)
Mr Kevin CHOI Head, Clean Hong Kong Office

Department of Health

Dr L Y TSE Consultant (Community Medicine)

Opening Remarks

The Chairman welcomed Members to the meeting which was the first meeting of the Advisory Council after the food and environmental hygiene policy had been taken up by the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau. He invited Dr EK YEOH, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, to give some remarks.

2. Dr Yeoh complimented the valuable contribution of the Chairman and other Members to the Government's work on food safety and environmental hygiene. He invited Members to continue to offer advice to the Government in this regard.

Agenda Item 1: Confirmation of Minutes of Last Meeting

3. Members confirmed the minutes of the last meeting together with the amendments to paragraphs 21 and 22 tabled at the meeting.

Agenda Item 2 : Matters arising from Minutes of Last Meeting

4. Dr Mak reported that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FHED) arranged a visit to the Food Research Laboratory (FRL) on 25 June 2002. The Chairman and a few other Members joined the visit.

Agenda Item 3: Situation report on dengue fever in Hong Kong (ACFEH Paper 9/2002)

5. The Chairman said that the purpose of ACFEH Paper 9/2002 was to report the current situation of dengue fever in Hong Kong and set out the measures taken by the Government to control the spread of the disease. The Chairman also drew Members' attention to the letter from Prof Yuen to the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene tabled at the meeting regarding Prof Yuen's views on the control of dengue fever (a copy of the letter is attached). Dr Mak presented the paper.

6. Mr CHAN Bing-woon wondered if there was room for more public's participation in the anti-mosquito campaign. He also expressed concern on the hygiene conditions of construction sites. Mrs Yau agreed with Mr CHAN's views and pointed out that the Anti-mosquito Steering Committee had placed strong emphasis on the public's involvement in the campaign. The Home Affairs Department would take lead in setting up a dedicated team to enhance the public's awareness at the district level and divert more resources for minor improvement works with a view to upgrading the local hygienic conditions in the districts. Mrs Yau also assured Members that FEHD had been carrying out vigorous enforcement in all construction sites. FEHD would continue to review whether there was further room for improvement.

7. The Chairman said that Macao had effectively educated the public about the grave health impacts of dengue fever through visual means (e.g. posters) in an extensive manner. Mrs Yau remarked that the Government would draw reference from Macao's experience in the publicity for fighting dengue fever. Mr Cheuk added that FEHD had been inspecting all construction sites on a weekly basis. The Buildings Department had also issued letters to all construction companies to remind them to pay attention to the hygiene conditions at their construction sites with a view to eliminating the breeding grounds of mosquitoes. Where necessary, FEHD would take enforcement actions against the personnel in charge of the construction sites that failed to meet the hygiene requirements. He pointed out that at FEHD's request, the magistrates had imposed higher penalties of about $4,000 on three recent cases of unlawful construction sites, marking an increase of about one third from the sentencing of previous cases. Dr Mak advised that the Government's publicity plan had included education targeted at construction sites and schools.

8. Mr Lee agreed with the Chairman's remarks that the focus of publicity should be placed on the health impacts of dengue fever to cause sufficient alarm among the public. However, the Government should also educate the public about the curable nature of dengue fever to avoid causing unnecessary panic.

9. Dr Chan said that dengue fever was not a new disease. The spread of dengue fever was highly related to the pace of urbanization around the world. Since 1994, Hong Kong had been imposing a statutory requirement on all medical doctors to report cases of dengue fever to the Department of Health (DH) for follow-up investigation. She said that the focus of the anti-mosquito campaign was to minimise the risk by reducing the breeding of mosquitoes and the efforts of the campaign should also be evidence-based to target the ecological behaviour of mosquitoes.

10. Dr James asked whether the front-line staff being deployed to handle the anti-mosquito work (e.g. spraying) were given sufficient training. Mrs Yau responded that the staff being deployed for the operations of the anti-mosquito campaign were so far FEHD's staff and the Department would soon contract out the work to expand the campaign. Dr Y Y HO advised that FEHD had been providing training and guidelines to the front-line staff, and would step up training for them and the future service contractors.

11. Dr John HO agreed that it was advisable to educate the public about the characteristics of Aedes albopictus, the mosquito vector capable of transmitting dengue fever.

12. Mrs Lam supported the publicity plan adopted by the Government in the anti-mosquito campaign against dengue fever. The Towngas had responded to the request of the Information Services Department (ISD) by including messages on dengue fever in all gas bills. She called on the other public utilities to follow suit. She also underlined the importance of lining up with the TV media to roll out some brief but focused educational programmes for the anti-mosquito campaign. Dr Chan responded that ISD had requested all public utilities to join hands with the Government to educate the public about dengue fever in one way or another. She added that the Education Department had also undertaken to mobilize schools to keep the campus areas clean and educate their students about the disease.

13. Mr Lee advised that the United States had passed the stage-two trial on vaccines for dengue fever and there would be a third-stage clinical trial of the vaccines in South East Asia.

14. Dr Yeoh responded that the anti-mosquito campaign should be focused on improving the hygienic conditions of Hong Kong and reducing the number of mosquitoes in Hong Kong with a view to minimising the health risk posed by dengue fever. He advised that vaccination would be more useful to those Hong Kong citizens travelling abroad. He stressed that the current situation of dengue fever provided a good opportunity for the Government to review the hygienic standards in Hong Kong and to work together with the community, especially at the district level, to seek improvements. He also pointed out that the long-term efforts of the campaign would take into account the future mosquito breeding index and resources would be allocated accordingly to enhance effectiveness of the campaign.

15. Dr Lo agreed that the anti-mosquito campaign should focus more on the overall community health rather than the individual health. He supported the Government's plan which underlined the importance of the community-wide efforts in fighting dengue fever.

16. Mr CHAN Bing-woon remarked that the Government should also educate the public to take responsibility in cleaning their household environments to reduce the breeding opportunities of mosquitoes.

17. Professor Yuen said that Hong Kong had moved into the map of dengue fever affected areas in view of the impacts of global warming and the four-yearly El Nino phenomenon. He stressed that extensive publicity to educate the public about dengue fever was a must.

18. The Chairman thanked Members and Government representatives for airing their views on the subject.

Agenda Item 4: Findings of the study on dietary exposure of secondary students to dioxin and heavy metals (ACFEH Paper 10/2002)

19. The Chairman said that the purpose of ACFEH Paper 10/2002 was to present FEHD's findings on dietary exposure of secondary school students to dioxin and heavy metal. He advised Members to refrain from making public the study results until the results were presented to the LegCo Panel on Food and Environmental Hygiene in late October. Dr Yeung conducted a power point presentation on the paper.

20. In response to Dr John HO's query, Dr Y Y HO confirmed that the study had drawn references from other countries. But he pointed out that any comparison should also take into account the limitations posed by the differences in the methodologies adopted by different countries.

21. In response to Dr James's questions, Dr Y Y HO replied that lead was not one of the three types of heavy metals covered in the study and FRL would consider undertaking some dietary study on lead in future. He said that the high consumption group of the secondary students, i.e. those in the 95 percentile, was also covered in the study, and cereal in the study referred to all cereals including rice.

22. Mr Hung asked about the justifications for devoting resources to conducting the dietary study on dioxin and heavy metals in food. Dr Mak responded that the study was undertaken to aid risk assessment. She advised that as environmental contamination of food by dioxin and heavy metals was unavoidable, dietary exposure studies would provide useful information to the public on risk reduction measures. She also recalled the incident of food contamination by dioxin in Belgium in 1999 to underline the food risk in this regard. She added that the current study had made use of existing resources and represented a useful first step in starting monitoring the long term trend of the population's dietary exposure to various environmental contaminants.

23. Dr Chan agreed with Mr HUNG's remarks on the effective use of resources in food research. Given the limited resources, the merit of conducting an initial dietary study on secondary school students as a target group was that their dietary exposure was a lot more sensitive and indicative.

24. Mr CHAN Bing-woon suggested that the recommendations of the study could be bundled with the other dietary advices from the Government for more effective publicity impacts. Dr Mak agreed.

25. Prof Ma asked for the statistical variation in each food category being studied as compared with the median figures. Dr Y Y HO responded that the full report of the study already set out these statistical details. Since the data on dietary exposure of the food categories concerned were mostly skewed, it was more accurate to adopt the median figures.

26. Prof Ma asked why "cereal and cereal products" were identified as a major dietary source of mercury in the study. Dr Y Y HO said that this mainly arose from overestimation due to limitations of the study. He explained that the limit of detection of mercury in the food surveillance programme was high and the majority of the samples in the "cereal and cereal products" group were below the limit. This had resulted in overestimation of the mercury level in the food group. Coupled with a high amount of consumption of cereal and cereal products, the food group was therefore identified as a major dietary source. FEHD would conduct further studies on mercury concentrations in cereals with laboratory support provided by the Food Research Laboratory.

27. Dr James showed concern on whether the media would misinterpret the conclusion of the study and caused unnecessary confusion among the public about the risk of certain types of food being identified in the study. Mrs Lam and Dr Lo supported that health advice to the public as concluded from the study should be clear to avoid confusion or unnecessary panic. Dr Mak said that the study would be released to the public in more laymen terms with a view to conveying a correct message.

28. Dr Yeoh said that most food in Hong Kong was imported and this study marked a useful first step in developing our own baseline data despite the limitations. He added that the study gave the public general assurance and showed some initial assessment of what kinds of food from which countries might need to be studied further. This would enable us to continue more studies in more targeted direction.

Agenda Item 5: Progress report on Clean Hong Kong Programme (ACFEH Paper 11/2002)

29. The Chairman said that ACFEH Paper 11/2002 was to report the purpose of the Clean Hong Kong Programme. Mr Cheuk conducted a power point presentation on the paper. 30. The Chairman asked for an update on the enforcement situation of the fixed penalty against littering after the attacks on the front line officers in the initial stage of enforcement. Mr Cheuk responded that the enforcement work had now become much smoother especially with the assistance of the Police in case of disputes. Mrs Lai supplemented that an offender had recently been convicted by the court for his attack on a FEHD officer with a sentencing of imprisonment of a few months. Hence, a certain level of deterrent effect had been created.

31. In response to Mrs Lam's queries, Mr Cheuk explained that banks were closed over weekends and posters would remain on the facades of the bank branches on streets for the whole weekend period. He said that FEHD's efficient removal of posters from these locations would eliminate these eyesores and discourage the advertisers or the service providers to post bills illegally anywhere.

32. Dr Lo asked if there were any objective criteria for measuring the cleanliness of Hong Kong. Mr Cheuk responded that there had been general public opinions that Hong Kong had become visibly cleaner. He said further that FEHD had commissioned a study on the public perception about Hong Kong's cleanliness in April/ May 2002. Similar study would be undertaken in the near future to enable FEHD to monitor possible changes in perception.

33. Dr James asked whether it was feasible to impose penalty on the advertisers or service contractors who posted bills illegally on streets. Mr Cheuk explained that both the advertisers and the service providers posting the bills were liable under the existing legislation. FEHD would try to spare more resources to issue warning letters to these unlawful advertisers and to take prosecution actions if the evidence permitted.

34. Professor Kwan wondered if there would be any measure to keep clean the tourist spots and major public place locations on festive occasions. Mr Cheuk responded that FEHD would step up the cleansing efforts in the tourist spots. As for the prime locations in public places on festive occasions, crowd control was the main concern in deciding which cleansing approach to use. FEHD had been trying different approaches to clean up these places and deploying additional staff to remind people on the spot of not littering.

35. The Chairman shared the view that Hong Kong had become much cleaner. He reiterated the importance of having the public to take part in making Hong Kong cleaner.

Agenda Item 6: Any Other Business

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

37. There being no other issues, the meeting ended at 5:00 p.m.

Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
Health, Welfare and Food Bureau
January 2003