Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene

Confirmed Minutes of the Twelfth Meeting
held at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, 7 March 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
Mr KAN Chung-nin, Tony
Miss Leonie KI
Mr LEE Luen-wai, John
Dr the Hon LO Wing-lok
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

Professor KWAN Hoi-shan
Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace
Dr Ronald LEUNG
Mr Eddy LI
Dr Margaret CHAN Director of Health

In Attendance

Environment and Food Bureau

Mrs Stella HUNG Deputy Secretary for the Environment and Food
Mr David LAU Principal Assistant Secretary for the Environment and Food

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

Mr W H CHEUK Deputy Director (Environmental Hygiene)
Mrs Marion LAI Deputy Director (Administration & Development)
Dr S P MAK Deputy Director (Food and Public Health)

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. He introduced Mr Thomas CHAN, the new Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation, to Members.

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 two information papers had been circulated since the last meeting. Members had no comment on the papers.

Agenda Item 3: Report on the Recent Avian Influenza Outbreak

4. The Chairman said that the purpose of the paper was to report the recent avian influenza outbreak and the follow-up actions. He invited Mrs Yam to brief Members of the way forward for the avian flu problem.

5. Mrs Yam said that AFCD would continue to monitor closely local farms, especially those in Pak Sha and that appropriate actions would be considered if more farms were infected.

6. Mrs Yam went on to say that she had appointed an investigation team to look into the possible cause(s) of the incident and to recommend measures to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak of avian flu in future. The team was expected to complete its investigation by early April. The investigation team would, amongst other things, consider whether more stringent bio-security standards should be imposed on local farms. Some Members of the public and LegCo Members had suggested that Government should take the opportunity to upgrade local farms to international standard and revoke the licences of farmers who could not meet the required standard. While Government would consider this suggestion, it would also have to bear in mind the effects on the livelihood of the farmers.

7. Mrs Yam said that some local farmers had suggested vaccinating chickens routinely to prevent avian influenza. AFCD was looking into the efficacy of H5 vaccines. She pointed out that other countries used vaccines mainly as a means to control the spread of virus in the midst of an outbreak.

8. Mrs Yam said that the import of chilled chickens from the Mainland would add another dimension to the long-term solution to the avian flu problem. The number of live chickens consumed daily (presently 100 000) was expected to decrease and this would help minimise the risks that avian influenza posed to public health.

9. A Member said that local farmers should upgrade the standard of their farms and only those who could meet the required standard could stay in the trade. He welcomed the resumption of import of Mainland chilled chickens as this would give more choice to consumers. As regards the long-term solution to the avian flu problem, he considered that the Government should always balance the importance of safeguarding public health against the effects on the livelihood of the people in the live poultry trade.

10. Another Member said that stringent enforcement actions should be taken against those farmers who had breached the licence conditions or the legislation such as by overstocking. He suggested the Government to consider not giving compensation to non-compliant farmers. Mrs Yam noted that views had been expressed suggesting that public money should not be used to compensate farmers as the infection was due to improper management and overstocking of the farms. Although some local farmers had earlier indicated that they would establish their own compensation fund, little progress had been made.

11. A Member suggested that the Government should conduct a comprehensive review of the existing policy and legislation with a view to ensuring that farmers had the incentive to maintain the hygiene standard of their farms to prevent infection of their chickens and to enhance the deterrent effect of the legislation against any non-compliance. Mrs Yam responded that such a review would be undertaken in light of the investigation team's recommendations.

12. A Member said that Influenza A virus was prevalent in waterfowls and migratory birds. Chickens could occasionally be infected with the virus and a disease outbreak would occur if chicken farms were not properly managed, giving rise to favourable conditions for amplification of the disease. H5N1 influenza outbreaks amongst poultry in Hong Kong were not unique and such outbreaks occurred in Scotland and England in 1959 and 1991 respectively. If there continued to exist local chicken farms that were in close proximity to each other and were below international farm hygiene standard, there would always be a possibility of recurrence of avian flu outbreak. It was therefore necessary to upgrade the hygiene standard of the local farms.

13. In response to another Member's query, the previous Member said that the distance between poultry farms in the UK, Scotland, and the US was much greater than that in Hong Kong. Moreover, overseas farmers were more prepared to report any disease occurring in their farms promptly to the veterinary authorities and maintain their farms in good hygienic conditions. These helped control the spread of the disease.

14. A Member informed the meeting that he had met some local farmers to listen to their views about the business prospect of the local live chicken rearing sector. The farmers opined that if they were given a chance to upgrade their farm standard, their farms could survive in the market because some restaurateurs preferred to source local chickens due to the better quality.

15. The meeting noted that some members of the public considered that the risk posed by avian influenza virus to humans was low and the Government had been over-sensitive in handling the avian flu problem. In response, a Member said that the 1997 avian influenza outbreak in Hong Kong was the first ever incident in which an H5N1 virus caused disease and mortality in humans. As avian influenza viruses had a propensity to reassort to develop new strains of viruses, the possibility that a lethal virus would develop always existed and it was not possible to tell when this would occur.

16. A Member considered that the pig and chicken rearing industries were not economic activities that had the potential for further development in Hong Kong. To address the long-term solution to the avian flu problem, the Government should take into account the economic contributions and the business prospect of the local live chicken rearing industry. He suggested and another Member supported that the Government should gather information about the investment, cost and income of the industry before determining the long-term solution to the avian flu problem. Addressing the Chairman's question, Dr Liu said that the industry contributed less than 1% of Hong Kong's GDP.

17. Mrs Yam agreed that it was necessary to know details of the operation of local farms to assess the impact of any proposals on the sector. AFCD was collecting such information.

18. A Member pointed out that stopping all live chicken rearing activities in Hong Kong could not resolve the avian flu problem as local farms only supplied about 20% of the demand for live chickens. If live chickens continued to be imported to Hong Kong and be sold at retail outlets, there could still be outbreak of the disease at the wholesale and retail levels. It might be too drastic to conclude that all local live chicken rearing activities should cease before looking into the epidemiology of the virus.

19. In response to a Member's query, Mrs Lau said that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) would impose strict import requirements to ensure that chilled chickens from the Mainland were fit for human consumption. The Mainland would put in place a dual registration system which required the chilled chickens to come from registered export farms and be slaughtered and packaged in registered processing plants. FEHD would inspect these plants to ensure that they fulfilled the required hygiene and cold chain standard before the chilled chickens processed there were allowed for import. On arrival at the border, the chilled chickens would also be inspected to ensure that they met the import requirements.

20. Mrs Yam said that in addition to public and veterinary health concerns, the economic loss brought on by an avian flu outbreak and the public resources spent on the surveillance programme and control measures taken during an outbreak would also have to be taken in finding long-term solutions to the avian flu problem.

Agenda Item 4: Any Other Business

21. The next meeting would tentatively be held on 2 May 2002.

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

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