Greenpeace members today ridicule FEHD as “witch of problem vegetable” and ”a princess was victim of poison” since the department failed to monitor the safety of vegetables.
Greenpeace Food Safety Assistant Campaigner Chow Yuen Ping said, “The maladministration of FEHD exposes Hong Kong citizens to food safety traps. We hope the Ombudsman can do citizens justice on this.”
Greenpeace revealed in April this year that the two major supermarkets in Hong Kong sold vegetables which contain excessive or illegal pesticides. The survey discovered that the existing administrative arrangement of FEHD cannot effectively prevent imported vegetables from unknown sources in the Mainland.
Currently there are several hundreds cross-boundary goods vehicles delivering fresh vegetables from China to Hong Kong via the Man Kam To crossing everyday. According to FEHD’s administrative arrangements, all vegetables imported to Hong Kong from the Mainland must come from registered farms or registered collection stations. Samples of imported vegetables will be taken at the Food Control Office at Man Kam To for examination, which includes inspection of relevant documents and sampling for tests of pesticide.
However, media reports and the industry have confirmed earlier that a number of goods vehicles did not drive through the Man Kam To crossing for FEHD’s inspection. Vegetables of unknown sources and unregulated are possible to enter Hong Kong, thereby jeopardizing the health of Hong Kong citizens.
Since the administrative arrangements are not supported by legislation, FEHD are not authorized to sweep goods vehicles that deliver vegetables to Hong Kong for compulsory examination. That being the case, vegetables could be imported from non-registered farms, under incomplete documentation and not sampled at the Food Control Office at all.
“The problem has been exposed for over half a year, but the Government is still reluctant to amend the loophole in monitoring vegetable produce seriously. Even the recent Policy Address touches on the problem of food safety lightly with only a sentence. It is regrettable that the Government is not determined to ensure food safety in Hong Kong,” says Chow Yuen Ping.
Greenpeace has also made a series of suggestions on how to enhance vegetable safety. These include setting clear legal standard on the pesticide residue level in food. Only if the standard is legalized, can FEHD be authorized to monitor traders and retailers effectively to prevent problem vegetables from being imported into Hong Kong; as well as to give clear guidelines to the industry and the public, as to what types of vegetables could pass the safety test.
Food safety has to be addressed at the source level. In order to sufficiently regulate vegetable produce sources in the long run, a traceability system must be set up to ensure that all vegetables be traced from production farms to retailers so that follow-up work and improvements can be made at the sources.
On the other hand, “better prevent than to cure”, it is beyond doubt that pesticide has negative effect on both the environment and our health. Greenpeace believes that the Government should not downplay the risk of unsafe vegetables from individual intoxication cases, but should also act proactively to improve food safety and to adopt the ‘Precautionary Principle’ to access the long-term risk on food safety brought by pesticides.
7 accusations of maladministration of FEHD
Facilities of food control centre of FEHD cannot cater the need of imported vegetables from the Mainland.
The vegetable inspection mechanism is problematic and allows unscrupulous businessman to get round the legal loopholes.
Pesticide tests take time. Problem vegetables are already on sale or sold to the public before testing results is ready.
Lack of mechanism
Lack of mechanism to trace the vegetable supply chain and recollect problematic vegetables, neither on the retail level nor the root source and the end of the chain.
Lack of authority
Even though FEHD is suspicious about the source of vegetables, it does not have the authority to reject or destroy those vegetables.
Lack of clear standard
Lacking clear legal standard on pesticide residue level to help the industry and citizens to objectively access whether certain vegetables are safe.
Lack of vision
The government does not have long-term risk assessment to prevent problems. It only solves the problem after it arises.
The Government’s response and attitude to the problem
Denied that excessive pesticides were unsafe, neglecting the threat to food safety.
Attempt to use individual testing results to lessen the perceived danger of problem vegetables. The survey results are susceptible since the government did not conduct them in transparent way.
Attempt to mislead the public that all vegetables are from registered farms, hiding the truth that some of them are not.
The government still has not come up with any solution to improve the monitoring mechanism on vegetable safety.