No laxity allowed in food supervision

Updated: 2017-03-23 07:35

(HK Edition)

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No laxity allowed in food supervision

Understandably the revelation that rotten, contaminated and substandard Brazilian meat products had found their way onto the dining tables of many unsuspecting consumers around the world - probably for years - has caused uproar in Hong Kong.

Public concern about the health consequence and outrage over the Brazilian food scandal are justified since Hong Kong is among the top consumers of Brazilian meat products in the world. This is particularly true after Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man confirmed on Wednesday that 21 problematic meat processing plants had been identified in Brazil. Five of them are known to have exported meat and poultry products to Hong Kong.

The decision of Hong Kong's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to immediately suspend meat product imports from Brazil is therefore well received by members of the community. Aside from preventing any possible health risk to people, the precautionary measure by Hong Kong's food safety authority, and a similar action by the mainland's food safety authority, will also put considerable pressure on Brazilian authorities to put their food production industry in good order lest the big meat producer lose a huge chunk of its overseas market.

It is sensible that some supermarkets have voluntarily stopped selling, and a number of restaurant chains ceased using, meat and poultry products imported from the country, pending further information on the Brazilian authorities' investigation into the food scandal. After all, they are business entities, which enjoy great operational flexibility and have alternative choices.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's food and safety authority is, understandably, constrained by technical difficulties when considering a mandatory product recall now that it is still waiting for detailed information from the Brazilian authorities on this matter.

But that won't prevent the food safety authority from taking other measures to ensure food safety in the city. The Centre for Food Safety under the FEHD has rightly strengthened its surveillance and inspection at the retail and import level after the outbreak of the Brazilian meat adulteration and contamination scandal. More intensive inspections surely will go a long way in helping the authority trace any problematic meat products - not only from Brazil but also other sources. After all, there is no guarantee that Brazil is the only country that has exported problematic meat products.

It is both sensible and imperative for the food safety watchdog to always keep a close eye on the quality of imported foods as the city relies on overseas food sources. No laxity can be justified in food quality supervision and regulation.

(HK Edition 03/23/2017 page8)