FOOD SECURITY

Hong Kong government comes under fire for not recalling all questionable meat products

Critics say government ban on import of tainted meat from Brazil does not go far enough, but Brazilian consul general calls the move too harsh

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 4:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 9:30pm

The government’s reluctance to recall all questionable meat ­products on sale in the cityhas been greeted with criticism, ­despite the announcement on Tuesday that it was banning the import of all meat from Brazil – the source of a tainted meat scare.

Major restaurant and supermarket chains across the territory took chicken, pork and beef off menus and shelves on Wednesday. Some said they were taking ­precautionary measures.

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But Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said a citywide seizure was too difficult to implement as the health authorities had failed to identify which batches of meat were affected or how much was already in the market.

He added that the amount of meat imported from Brazil was too big – accounting for about 30 per cent of all imported meat in the city.

If it is not stopping it at the retail level, how can public health be ­safeguarded?
Helena Wong, lawmaker

Hong Kong is the biggest ­market for Brazilian beef, importing US$718 million worth in 2016, according to Brazilian government figures.

Ko said a trade ban was appropriate as it had made reference to measures taken in other ­countries.

But Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan said the government was doing too little and not offering clarity on the issue. She said it was now up to Hongkongers to ensure their safety.

“The government has banned the import of Brazilian meat, but how much meat is still here? If it is not stopping it at the retail level, how can public health be ­safeguarded?”

The local trade ban came after the mainland, the European Union and Chile imposed similar full or partial bans following ­announcements by Brazilian authorities last week that they were investigating evidence that some of the nation’s largest meat producers had bribed government officials to approve the sale and export of contaminated meat.

Five of the 21 Brazilian food companies involved in the scandal are known to have sold meat to Hong Kong buyers, according to Ko, as he warned more information was needed from Brazil to ­determine whether the situation would worsen.

“There is only very limited ­information from Brazil,” Ko said.

“We are following the international measures on issuing a trade ban, while at the same time balancing public safety and the concern for fair trade.”

But Brazil’s Consul General in Hong Kong, Piragibe dos Santos Tarrago, called the ban “too harsh”, saying the Hong Kong government should target the only company in Brazil linked to the contamination instead of five.

“Of the five exporters trading with Hong Kong, only one of them was involved and most of the products were poultry,” Tarrago said, adding his office had ­exchanged information with the local authorities on a daily basis.

Many local food chains voluntarily pulled imported Brazilian meat from their menus, even if the meat was not from one of the South American country’s affected exporters.

Cafe de Coral suspended the sale of its signature dish – baked pork chop with rice – along with other sets using chicken, to ease the worries of customers even though it did not buy meat from any of the affected factories.

Fast food chain Fairwood stopped selling barbecue pork dishes. Some chicken dishes at Maxim’s and KFC were also not available.

Maxim’s said it would withdraw all dishes using meat from Brazil, as would ParknShop and the 7-Eleven convenience store chain.

KFC did not reply by press time. City’super, another local supermarket chain, said it did not stock Brazilian meat.