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Tuesday, August 9, 2016, 00:50

Pork industry urges action over tainted meat

By Luis Liu

HONG KONG - The city's raw pork trading industry on Monday urged the government to speed up investigations into the tainted meat scandal to win back the public’s trust.

They proposed holding up supplies to the market until the government finishes all quarantine checks to ensure food safety.

This came after the city's Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man made a public apology on Sunday for the government’s failure to stop meat contaminated with drugs getting into Hong Kong’s market. These drugs were used for treating asthma.

Ko said the mistake was made possibly at “more than one level”. There could be problems in the current testing and reporting mechanism for pig imports.

The incident resulted in more than three tons of the tainted meat having to be destroyed. The government vowed to find out what went wrong within two weeks.

Ricky Ng Kwok-ming from the Hong Kong Fresh Meat Alliance voiced concern as the group received reports of a 40 percent fall of retail sales in affected shops. It urged the government to speed up its investigation.

Ng also urged the government to allow the slaughter and trade of imported live pigs only after laboratory results show they are safe for consumption. To do this, a shipment of live pigs will have to wait one night before being sold.

According to Ng, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) said the proposal was worth considering after a meeting on Monday with industry players. Ng added that the FEHD pledged to release final quarantine reports before 10:30 pm every day, but still have to negotiate with three distributor companies and do feasibility studies before making a final decision.

Currently a shipment of live pigs goes through random checks as soon as they arrive at a local slaughterhouse. Pigs are processed for auction and get slaughtered once they test negative. However, industry players admitted some batches of pigs might have been auctioned before they were proved 100 percent healthy, as there were too many that had to go through checks.

The city’s fresh pork supply comes from three licensed slaughterhouses in Sheung Shui, Tsuen Wan and Cheung Chau, with an average daily throughput of about 4,500 pigs, according to the city's Centre for Food Safety. Most of the live pigs are from the mainland.

Meanwhile, the alliance urged the government to file clarification letters to 27 affected retailers in town within three days to restore their reputation.

Liberal Party's lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yu-yan said the administration should act immediately.

He said the government failed "to carry out its duty" and urged compensation to the affected businesses.

Cheung is standing for re-election in the Catering functional constituency in next month's Legislative Council election. Ng Wing-tak of Island West Dynamic Movement will contest the seat.

The largest food distributor in Hong Kong, Ng Fung Hong, said it had stopped imports from the pig farm in Jiangxi province. The move is expected to minimize the impact on the market. The company vowed to stabilize supplies by adding imports from other qualified sources.

Mainland media reported that a temporary ban was introduced on all farms in Jiangxi from exporting pigs to Hong Kong.

The Consumer Council in Hong Kong believed the case was an isolated event. It refused to comment on related government policies.

Last week, the FEHD discovered 319 pigs with traces of salbutamol and clenbuterol.

The drugs, commonly used to treat asthma, also artificially enhance animal growth and leanness. People having eaten the tainted pork may suffer from an increased heart rate, dizziness, headaches, trembling and nervousness.

It was reported the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department had found the positive test in time and informed relevant parties. However, it failed to stop tainted meat from entering the local market.

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