Deaths of dogs may see ban on paraquat

An outbreak of poisonings of animals caused by food laced with paraquat is prompting a review of the use of the herbicide in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2012, 4:58am

Government officials are considering imposing a ban on over-the-counter sales of the weed killer paraquat, which has been linked to a series of dog deaths.

A review has been launched into the widely used but highly toxic pesticide, which is banned in many countries, but freely available in Hong Kong. It may result in sales being restricted through a permit system.

The Sunday Morning Post reported last month how a series of dog poisonings saw four pets die in agony in Big Wave Bay. Vets believe all the dogs ate bones laced with paraquat, commonly sold under the trade name Gramoxone in Hong Kong.

More than 10 dogs have died in Lamma from suspected paraquat poisoning in the past 14 months. One female dog owner on the island is distraught after losing two dogs to suspected paraquat poisoning last year and a third dog in almost identical circumstances in October.

Now, after a campaign by worried pet owners, vets and a senior horticulturalist, the Hong Kong government has launched a review of the pesticide that may lead to its sales being restricted.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which is conducting the review, said it had been closely monitoring global developments on the regulation of paraquat, including a recent announcement by the mainland on restrictions on the production and use of paraquat products in the future.

It said it was gathering information to help decide whether the registration of the herbicide should be cancelled. If paraquat's registration was cancelled, "further use of paraquat will be subject to regulation under a permit system and only individuals who are properly trained will be allowed to gain access and apply this herbicide," the department said.

The announcement is a significant shift from the government's position on paraquat last year, when legislator Albert Chan called for restrictions on the herbicide after the Lamma poisonings.

His appeal was rebuffed by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow Yat-Ngok, who said paraquat was "a fast acting and effective herbicide" that played "a major role in local agriculture, land management and mosquito control".

The review of paraquat was welcomed by horticulturalist Paul Melsom, who led calls for it to be banned. However, he said, the government should act quickly and look at the availability of other dangerous pesticides which threatened people as well as pets.

"The government should move with the times and actively seek out alternative safe pest control instead of sanctioning the poisoning of the population of Hong Kong in the name of pest control," he said.

"For the health and safety of Hong Kong's population, the government must take immediate action to ban the use of these insidiously debilitating and ultimately lethal poisons.

"These pesticides should be suspended immediately in high health-risk-sensitive areas such as schools kindergartens, hospitals and domestic premises."