Fruit dumped in challenge to food safety tests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2007, 12:00am

Greenpeace says pesticide levels in its lab results show centre is not doing its job

Greenpeace activists yesterday dumped hundreds of mainland tangerines and strawberries outside the Centre for Food Safety after they found excessive amounts of pesticides in five samples.

The activists cast doubts on the results of the centre's tests last month, which found about 350 fruit samples taken at both retail and wholesale level did not contain excessive amounts of pesticides. The group said its results exposed flaws in the food surveillance system.

Greenpeace campaigner Apple Chow Yuen-ping said the government should supply a legislative timetable for specifying residual pesticide standards. 'The findings show toxic fruit is still freely entering the city and the government has been neglecting calls to plug the loopholes. It is unfair to consumers, and officials cannot evade responsibility,' she said.

Ms Chow said the government should introduce a licensing system for fresh food importers, as well as mandatory inspections and testing.

A centre spokesman said it would not comment on individual test results and reiterated that last month's survey showed imported fruit was safe. The results, released outside the Admiralty office yesterday, came before a Legislative Council debate on food safety today.

The activists said five tangerine and strawberry samples imported from the mainland and collected this month were found to contain pesticide residues. Two of them contained locally banned pesticides such as methamidophos and DDT.

One of the three tangerine samples was contaminated with 13 kinds of pesticides, including DDT. The triazophos level was about 30 times EU standards.

The samples, including three of tangerines and two of strawberries, were taken from Chung Fu market in Tin Shui Wai, Chung On market in Ma On Shan, Ngau Chi Wan market in Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan, and Tsz Wan Shan centre market. They were sent to a German laboratory to be tested for about 300 types of pesticides, whereas the government only tested for about 50 types in its survey last month.

The centre said its tests were in line with international standards.

Tina Mok, the centre's principal medical officer, yesterday admitted her staff had not tested for DDT in the survey. She said the centre would normally test for more than 100 types of pesticides in fruit and review the types of pesticides tested, depending on the risks they posed and chances of prevalence.

Lok Sui-kwan, a spokesman for the Kowloon Fruit and Vegetable Merchants' Association, said merchants supported a licensing system for importers and exporters to restore public confidence in fruit consumption.

'The government should designate one place, like the Yau Ma Tei fruit market, as a wholesale base where we can help in the inspection or testing of fruit, instead of allowing the fruit to enter the city freely once it passes border checkpoints.'