Safety chiefs search for Bombay duck as vendors fear fish scare

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 December, 2006, 12:00am

Hotpot ingredient tests positive for formaldehyde

Food safety chiefs are trying to establish whether Hong Kong has imported Bombay duck - a popular fish for hotpot - from Yangjiang, in Guangdong, where samples have been found to contain the preservative formaldehyde, which can cause cancer.

Fish importers fear a fresh consumer scare that would dent sales, just days after the mainland resumed supplies of freshwater fish and seafood following export suspensions triggered by the discovery of potentially harmful chemicals in samples.

A spokeswoman for the Centre for Food Safety said it was in touch with the Guangdong government about whether any of the tainted Bombay duck had been sold in Hong Kong.

Mainland media yesterday reported that the Administration for Industry and Commerce in Guangdong had banned the sale of Bombay duck on Friday after nine samples were found to contain formaldehyde.

Lee Choi-wah, chairman of the Hong Kong Chamber of Seafood Merchants, said about 60 per cent of Bombay duck sold in Hong Kong was imported from the mainland, mainly from Guangdong.

Formaldehyde is a common organic solvent often used for preserving specimens, but people usually use ethanol nowadays, said Ho Wing-shing, associate professor of biochemistry at Chinese University.

'Formaldehyde can naturally occur in the environment and be found in very small amounts in water and plants, but it is not supposed to be found at a high level in food,' he said.

'Ingestion of formaldehyde can cause cancer and toxicity, especially in the liver.'

Under Hong Kong's Preservatives in Food Regulations, the use of formaldehyde is prohibited and is liable to a maximum fine of HK$50,000 and six months' imprisonment.

Mr Lee, of the seafood merchants' association, fears the test results will cause a fresh scare about the safety of fish supplies.

Tests on freshwater fish exported to Hong Kong revealing contamination with the cancer-causing fungicide malachite green led to a near-three-week suspension of exports.

Seafood supplies were halted last week after nitrofuran, a banned antibiotic, was found in samples exported to Hong Kong.

Tommy Hui Hon-man, chairman of the Hong Kong, Kowloon and New Territories Freshwater Fish Wholesale Association, said freshwater fish sales were running at only 30 per cent of normal levels.

He said that, since freshwater fish exports resumed on Friday, only bighead carp and grass carp had been supplied.

'We hope the exports can be back to normal completely as soon as possible before Friday's winter solstice festival,' Mr Hui said.