Consumers warned not to buy fake or stale black moss

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 January, 2008, 12:00am

Consumers were warned by a green group yesterday to beware of buying fake or old stock of the popular New Year delicacy fat choy - black or hair moss - because none had been imported for the past two years.

'The black moss now on sale is probably counterfeit or old stock,' the Conservancy Association said.

But traders said the product - cultivation and export of which has been banned on the mainland since 2000 because of environmental fears - could safely be stored for years.

The moss, Nostoc flagelliforme, is popular at this time of year because its Chinese name sounds like the term for 'be prosperous', which is part of the traditional Lunar New Year greeting kung hei fat choy.

According to records of the Census and Statistics Department to November, none has been imported into the city since January 2006.

The Customs and Excise Department said it had not seized illegally imported hair moss since 2002.

The Conservancy Association called on people not to buy or eat the moss in an effort to discourage its export and harvesting, which has been blamed for desertification of large areas of Inner Mongolia .

'Even if each Hongkonger ate just 1.5 grams of black moss a year, it would cause desertification of an area of 700 sq km,' it said.

The concern group suggested people eat lettuce instead as its Chinese name, sang choy, also sounded like 'be prosperous'.

A spokeswoman for Yue Sang Seaproduct in Sheung Wan said the black moss it had for sale had been imported from the mainland several years ago. 'It is hotly sought after every Chinese New Year. People say they care about the environment, but they still buy fat choy for the festival,' she said, adding that its retail price remained at HK$480 a catty (600 grams), the same as last year.

A shopkeeper at Yau Lee Seafood in Sheung Wan said the shop's black moss had been stored for at least eight years. 'It is suitable for consumption no matter how long it is stored,' she said.