Greenpeace exposes problem vegetable sources

Time to implement full traceability in the supply chain

Press release - 2006-06-19
Greenpeace brings problem vegetable sources to the front stage. Traceability is under the spotlight throughout the whole tracking process and its significance on strengthening vegetable produce monitoring to Hong Kong is proven.

Greenpeace exposed three major supermarket chains in Guangzhou – Vanguard, ParknShop and Carrefour – are selling produce with illegal pesticides or pesticide residue exceeding standard.

After problem vegetable produce being exposed by Greenpeace in April, the HKSAR Government has been reluctant to release any information regarding the investigation progress on problem vegetable source. On the other side, Greenpeace discovered that, according to the information given by the Guangdong Import and Export Inspection & Quarantine Bureau, at least one source is confirmed non-accredited to supply vegetable to Hong Kong consumers.

In a report submitted by Wellcome to Greenpeace, which has documented the sources of the 13 problem vegetable samples found, Greenpeace discovers that 10 out of 13 are unable to track down to farms where the vegetable are produced, whereas 2 from packing houses and only 1 can be located.  Surprisingly, all 3 production places in Mainland are not accredited for supplying vegetable to Hong Kong (see Appendix 1). The only one identifiable source of pesticide contaminated vegetable sample is from a farm called Weng Yuan Shi Zhai in Shaoguan of Guangdong province.

According to Mainland's law governing the vegetable produce supply to Hong Kong,  the farm concerned is not accredited and thereby not allowed for supplying vegetable to Hong Kong.  This is the first confirmed case of illegal vegetable supply with an identified non-accredited source.

Greenpeace Food Safety Assistant Campaigner Chow Yuen Ping said, "The HKSAR Government should have already located the sources of these contaminated vegetable - as they claimed to have liaised and followed up with the chained supermarkets and their suppliers.  What actions have been taken by the government?  Apart from repeating to the public that vegetable source of Hong Kong market are from accredited farms, the government should have told us how they could plug the loopholes."

"When majority of the problem vegetable sources are untraceable, we doubt if the Shi Zhai Farm case is only a tip of an iceberg.  Responsible government official should clarify public concerns, instead of reiterating partial facts in front of the public." Chow added.

"To be an accountable government, concrete action is needed, not statements delaying the solution." She urged.

Contrary to the reluctance of the HKSAR Government, the industry and Mainland authorities concerned have already been taking action to address the growing concern from the public.  Mainland authorities have initiated 4 measures to, on one hand enhance the monitoring and supervision of accredited vegetable suppliers; on the other hand plugging loopholes to stop illegal vegetable supply to Hong Kong market.  Meanwhile, the industry has come up with recommendations to tackle illegal vegetable and fruit, and Wellcome has been bringing a series of changes to its vegetable supply chain so as to minimize risk in food supply.

As there is a gap in traceability in Hong Kong wholesale markets, Wellcome has stopped sourcing vegetable from them, and resorted to Mainland accredited farms. Chow points out, "This precisely shows that traceability is key to improve food safety. It gives confidence to the public that the sources of their food are reliable. Retailers can keep themselves away from obscure sources, and take prompt actions in case any problem found."

"Full traceability can also improve cooperation and communication within the industry, which is fundamental to food safety in the long run.  In terms of governance, through FEHD's regular inspection, traceability can help stop illegal vegetable sources. In a nutshell, full traceability and more comprehensive pesticide testing are the effective means to ensure safety of vegetable" Chow emphasized.

Greenpeace investigations dated April 17 and June 12 reflect that problem vegetable cannot be stopped if government's actions are superficial and without long-term goals towards food safety.  While everyone, excepts Hong Kong Government, acknowledges the urgency of the problem, Greenpeace calls for substantiating the "Precautionary Principle" as the fundamental principle to assess the long term risk of pesticide.  To let the public eat safe, the government should establish full traceability and develop comprehensive pesticide testing immediately.