Fears drive sales of mainland food down

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 June, 2004, 12:00am

Scares over unsafe, substandard goods leave them off HK shoppers' lists

Sales of food products from the mainland have dropped nearly 30 per cent in Hong Kong amid a string of scares over unsafe and substandard food, according to traders.

Hong Kong Food Trades Association vice-president Lee Kwong-lam said the products most affected by the sales slump included dried shrimp, green-bean vermicelli and soy sauce - items reported to be excessively coloured with chemicals.

Those products came chiefly from the mainland, said Mr Lee, also a member of the Hong Kong Food Council.

'People now opt for local products as a replacement,' he said. 'Some consumers have shifted to major supermarkets from small, dried-food stores amid the scare.

'But I still believe that consumers will continue to buy mainland products after the fear dissipates because the mainland is a major food supplier which provides a large variety of products at affordable prices.'

Meanwhile, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Yeoh Eng-kiong pledged to step up inspections on prepackaged food from the mainland in view of the scares over unsafe food.

Speaking after a visit to Princess Margaret Hospital yesterday, Dr Yeoh said mainland authorities had stepped up actions against factories producing substandard food.

'There is a need for Hong Kong to have a good communication system with our mainland counterpart, such as to find out whether the substandard food has been imported into Hong Kong,' he said.

'They [the mainland] are now tackling the problem in a positive way. They do not want the whole market to be undermined by a small amount of substandard food. They are taking action, and we believe people will have more confidence in mainland products in the future.

'On our side, we have stepped up our communication with the mainland. At the same time, I have also discussed with my colleagues from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department about stepping up inspections in the market,' Dr Yeoh said.

Under Hong Kong law, those who sell unsafe food products can face a fine of $50,000 and six months in jail.

Connie Lau Yin-hing, deputy chief executive of the Consumer Council, acknowledged widespread concerns by consumers about unsafe food products manufactured in the mainland.

Ms Lau said the council was still undertaking testing on some of the most popular food products sold in the market and would release the results soon.

She said such testing was part of the council's routine duties, but that it would expand its inspection programme in light of the recent scares.

Consumers should make sure they shopped at reputable grocery stores, she said.

'[Shoppers] should take care to notice if some outlets sell products at a very cheap price. They should make complaints to the Consumer Council or the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department if they are suspicious about food products,' she said.