Vegetable traders plan protest drive against smugglers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 January, 2009, 12:00am

A food-hygiene official in Shenzhen denied that uncertified mainland chicken had been hidden among vegetable shipments and smuggled into Hong Kong, as local vegetable merchants prepared to carry out a slow-drive protest against smuggling in Central today.

The Shenzhen official made the remarks yesterday morning.

And last night, officials from Hong Kong's Centre for Food Safety and the Customs & Excise Department said inspections were up to standard during a press tour of the Man Kam To control point.

However, merchants believe some 20 per cent of the vegetables imported into the city every day - representing about 700 tonnes - come from unauthorised farms on the mainland, and that meat and chilled chicken are being smuggled across the border.

Yuen Cheung, president of the Imported Vegetable Wholesale Merchants Association, said 100 trucks would be driven from the Cheung Sha Wan wholesale market to the government headquarters in Central today to protest against smuggling.

'The government has not responded to our appeals and declined to meet us, though we have raised the issue for months,' he said, adding that the merchants wanted to talk to Secretary for Food and Health York Chow Yat-ngok.

The association said the government had failed to tackle the cause of vegetable smuggling even though inspections at the border had been strengthened, for example, through the use of labels that allow officials to check that the vegetables come only from registered farms and can be traced back to their farms of origin.

'The problem is smugglers can buy real labels from authorised farms on the mainland easily,' said Mr Yuen. Hence, illegal vegetables cannot be traced under the existing system, he said.

Meanwhile, at a press conference yesterday, an official from Shenzhen's quarantine office said it paid close attention to food transported across the border.

Concerning earlier reports that it had become common practice to hide chickens in boxes of vegetables so they could be sent undetected across the border, Wang Jun, a department head from the Shenzhen Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau, said the office had not found evidence suggesting such illicit shipments had taken place.

Mr Wang said that from October 1 to December 31 last year, the office had inspected 281 vegetable delivery lorries and had found no sign of any chickens among the vegetable shipments. Nor did officials find any forged paperwork.

Every day, about 260 lorries carrying 1,600 tonnes of vegetables enter Hong Kong from Shenzhen.

In a bid to step up vegetable inspections and tackle smuggling, the Shenzhen quarantine bureau has implemented a number of measures since April 2007, including the labelling system and the registration of vegetable farms.