The need is urgent for a revamp of Hong Kong's food safety regime

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2015, 4:58am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 September, 2015, 4:58am

Whenever Hong Kong is hit by a major food scare involving lax surveillance or human error, authorities are expected to tighten regimes and hold the culprits accountable. A year after the so-called gutter oil incident in Taiwan spilled over to the city, there has been some progress.

A company director who helped pass off tonnes of lard for animal feed as suitable for human consumption was jailed for two years.

But this is one of many steps that need to be taken. The government should press ahead with the prosecution of other key players and speed up plans for a food safety revamp.

The severity of the crime committed by So Tat-wai was reflected in the harsh criticism made by a District Court judge.

So's company, Eagle View, was found to have issued fake certificates to facilitate the export of lard from a Hong Kong supplier for 14 years.

The product would not have made it to Taiwan without the certificates.

As the judge rightly pointed out, So and his company had contributed to a food scandal that had a "tsunami-like" effect on consumer confidence, business reputations and the economy. Those who put profit above public safety were disgraceful and immoral, he said.

The scandal first emerged as Hong Kong being a victim of tainted oil found in Taiwan, with many products imported from the island removed from the shelves. But it soon turned into our own problem after it was found that some oil ingredients were imported from the city.

So played an instrumental role in cheating the system, as did the local company which allegedly paid him to forge the documentation.

Earlier, two key figures in the tainted-oil scandal were jailed 12 and 20 years respectively by a Taiwan court. Justice will not be fully served until all those responsible are tried and punished.

The importance of a reputable food safety regime cannot be overstated. The scandal has exposed serious inadequacies in monitoring.

The government should speed up the food safety revamp, including bolstering licensing and tracing systems.