Food imports bypass checks: Greenpeace

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2007, 12:00am

Group's tests find banned pesticides in produce trucked in from mainland

Greenpeace says loopholes in monitoring are allowing trucks to transport vegetables from the mainland without checks, citing the discovery of highly toxic banned pesticides in four out of 20 samples it tested from markets in the city.

The government has responded by denying there are any loopholes, but admits there is no law requiring that all trucks be inspected.

It said that of 3,200 samples of vegetables, fruit and other produce checked by the government in January and February, only four exceeded standards, and not by serious levels.

To check on monitoring of imports, Greenpeace installed a video camera at the Man Kam To Food Control Centre, through which trucks bringing vegetables from the mainland must pass, on March 31.

'Within 30 minutes, we found at least 10 trucks loaded with vegetables bypassed the centre without inspection,' Greenpeace assistant campaigner Apple Chow Yuen-ping said.

Greenpeace project manager Angus Lam Chi-kwong emphasised that regulation of vegetable imports was crucial to the health of Hongkongers.

'Many trucks carrying vegetables from unauthorised farms on the mainland simply passed the centre without any check and they would be sold in Hong Kong,' he said.

Greenpeace discovered that of the vegetable samples it obtained from wet markets in Sham Shui Po, Tsuen Wan, Fanling and Sha Tin, four contained toxic substances. The banned pesticide Carbofuran was found on a Dutch bean sample bought from the Pei Ho Street market in Sham Shui Po. 'Carbofuran is banned in China and it is as hazardous as methamidophos,' Ms Chow said.

In the three others - a small pak choi and two choi sum samples - banned Beta-HCH was found, along with residues of Chlorfenapyr exceeding the European Union standard by about four times.

Greenpeace, with the vegetable sector, consumer groups and legislators, urged the government to initiate food safety legislation immediately.

League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Lo Wing-lok said it was important to regulate vegetables imported from the mainland by starting a complete tracing system, to check each point from the authorised farm to the retailer.

'Each level must be checked carefully so that we will be able to know where the responsibilities go to,' Dr Lo said, noting continuous eating of contaminated vegetables can cause chronic poisoning.

'Consuming pesticides exceeding the legal limit can cause long-term effects,' Dr Lo said, 'for example, cancer and malformation of the fetus, allergies as well as decrease in sperm counts.'

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department assistant director Constance Chan Hon-yee told a news conference yesterday the city has no law obliging vehicles transporting vegetables from the mainland to be inspected.

'There is only an agreement between Hong Kong and the mainland, which is not legally binding, that these vehicles should have a monitoring card and pesticide declaration certificate issued by the mainland authorities,' Dr Chan said.

Four vegetable samples - one spring onion, two green peas and one dried raisin - had been found to contain pesticide, colouring or preservatives slightly exceeding the legal limit and posed no immediate health risks, Dr Chan said in revealing the department's first food safety report of the year.

Caught on camera

Greenpeace placed a video camera at the Man Kam To Food Control Centre

Number of trucks loaded with vegetables that bypassed the centre in a 30-minute period on March 31: 10