HK blamed for fish supply crisis

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 December, 2006, 12:00am

'Publicity stunt' hurt industry, say mainland officials

Mainland quarantine officials yesterday blamed their Hong Kong counterparts for what they described as a publicity stunt that disrupted supplies of freshwater fish.

The Guangdong Inspection and Quarantine Bureau criticised Hong Kong authorities for seizing a mainland vessel belonging to the Nanhai Food Products Import and Export Company and allowing local media to photograph it.

In an official statement, it said the incident had damaged the reputation of the mainland live fish industry which has halted supplies since last week.

On November 27, Hong Kong authorities temporarily impounded the vessel on suspicion of carrying contaminated fish stock. It was sent back to Foshan the same day.

The mainland bureau also complained about vague test standards used by Hong Kong and the lack of government-to-government negotiations.

Responding to the criticism last night, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department denied that the media was invited to board the ship. 'There was a colleague [from the department] carrying out his duties onboard the vessel. But we did not invite the press to cover the incident,' a department spokeswoman said. 'We contacted the relevant authorities and found that the consignment was made before the decision to halt supplies. So the ship went back to the mainland the same day.'

Farmers in Shunde said the damage had been done because Hong Kong consumers were too frightened to eat fish and they had had to resort to dumping their products on the mainland market.

They urged Hong Kong to learn from Japan's experience in safeguarding food safety.

'Japan gave us notice that they were going to raise food safety standards. They told us what they were going to test and what the limits were,' said Zheng Shining, deputy general manager of Nanhai Food Products Import and Export, a member of the Guangdong Fresh and Frozen Fish Association.

'The whole world knows that Japan has the strictest food standards. Japan is very clear about its standards. If Hong Kong can do the same thing, that would make it clear for us,' said Chen Dezhong , a section head from the Shunde Agriculture Bureau.

Shunde, which accounts for 30 per cent of the mainland's grilled eel exports to Japan, faced similar problems last year when a batch from Fujian was found contaminated with malachite green. Japan banned all mainland eels imports, but exports have since returned to normal.

To protect its market, farmers' associations invested 5 million yuan on inspection facilities to ensure their eels met Japan's standards, Mr Chen said.