Jockey Club may face HK$10m bill over contaminated horse feed

Contaminated horse feed that ended up being given to freshwater fish could result in big compensation payout to farmers in New Territories

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 5:11am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 December, 2013, 7:24am

The Hong Kong Jockey Club could be facing a compensation bill of HK$10 million after hundreds of thousands of freshwater fish in the New Territories were given contaminated horse feed and will have to be culled.

The feed was in 2,000 bags offloaded by the Jockey Club six months ago after it was found to contain the banned weight and muscle-builder zilpaterol, a spokeswoman for the club confirmed. She said the bags were improperly transferred by front-line staff to an external party for handling, and ended up being used as fish feed by farmers in the New Territories.

"All affected farmers have stopped harvesting fish that were given the feed," the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said. "No affected fish made it onto the market."

It is understood that the contaminated feed was given to nine fish farmers in the northwestern New Territories, where it was used in 15 ponds of freshwater fry that would reach saleable size in eight to 12 months. Affected fish included species common in cooking such as striped mullet, tilapia, dace and grass carp.

New Territories Fish Culture Association chairman Lai Loi-chau expected the Jockey Club would have to pay a total of HK$10 million to the nine farmers to settle the matter.

He said at least four of the farmers had agreed with the Jockey Club's compensation terms, while the rest were still negotiating. One fish farmer said the Jockey Club would pay HK$5 for each fish affected - meaning he would receive a total of HK$300,000 in compensation for giving the contaminated feed to one of his 13 ponds of fry.

He said that amount would cover only half of the profit he would have made on the sale of the fish.

The Jockey Club said it would buy all the affected fish for "proper handling" and was in the process of working out the details.

The chemical zilpaterol is usually used in feed to bulk up cattle and pigs, according to City University science and engineering professor Michael Lam Hon-Wah. In large amounts, it can be lethal for elderly people and children. It is less likely to be fatal in adults, but could cause sideeffects such as nausea, high blood pressure and emotional problems, Lam said.

But there was no research into the effect on fish, which would store the substance, and whether eating the contaminated fish would pose any risk to humans.

The farmers said they bought the contaminated feed from Yue Hing Hong, the city's major fish feed supplier, for HK$50 per bag.

It is believed a Jockey Club employee gave the contaminated feed to Yue Hing Hong for free in order to dispose of the two brands of horse feed which had been in stock for months since the contamination saga.

In a statement, the Jockey Club stressed it had never made any sale or gained advantage when it transferred the horse feed, and that it had no connection with the supplier who sold the feed to the fish farmers.