Hong Kong eyes new food-import regulations after 'rotten meat' scandal

After a safety scandal in which McDonald's admitted to buying from a supplier selling rotten meat, new import regulations may be next

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 4:40pm

The government will review the regulation of cooked-meat imports after the "rotten meat" scandal that has engulfed McDonald's in Hong Kong and a mainland supplier.

"We will be open to lawmakers' suggestions and study whether we can set up laws to better monitor imported cooked meat," undersecretary for food and health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said yesterday.

Under current law, importation of cooked meat does not require a permit. But traders have to keep proper records and provide them when asked. For raw meat, traders need import permits with a record of the place of origin and supplier.

The government's move follows a scandal over the discovery that the McDonald's fast food chain in Hong Kong had bought meat from the Shanghai factory of supplier Husi, which is under investigation for reprocessing rotten meat and selling it.

Assistant director of food and environmental hygiene Dr Lee Siu-yuen also said the department was open to introducing a system for cooked meat similar to that for raw products.

But a catering industry representative said such a system could delay supplies to the city's biggest restaurant chains.

Varieties of cooked meat were so broad it would not be easy for the government to classify which products should require permits, said Simon Wong Ka-wo, chairman of the Chamber of Food & Beverage Industry of Hong Kong.

"Some chain stores and restaurants have their own processing factories on the mainland. Transportation of cooked food could be delayed if there are new clearing processes at the border," Wong said.

Lee meanwhile accused McDonald's of misleading the government last week by saying it had not bought meat from Husi Shanghai. The firm initially said it bought its meat from Husi Hebei, but in a sudden reversal on Thursday said it had used products from the Shanghai branch.

Dr Helena Wong Pik-wan, chairwoman of the Legislative Council food safety and environmental hygiene panel, said the panel would press the government to investigate whether the fast food giant had covered up and delayed information.

Speaking after the meeting, Wong also said traders should be required to get import permits for cooked meat as they did now for raw meat. "In Hong Kong, families buy more cooked meat than raw meat to save time," she said. "Instant noodles with sausages and ham are a popular meal. Shouldn't cooked meat be subject to tighter safety controls?"

She said the government told lawmakers 110 tonnes of meat products imported from Husi by McDonald's would be discarded.

The Centre for Food Safety said 15 tonnes of Husi food from McDonald's was dumped into landfills yesterday, and another 62 tonnes sealed up ready to be thrown out. The centre inspected import receipts for the past 24 months of another eight fast food chains - Pizza Hut, Starbucks, 7-Eleven, Subway, Yoshinoya, KFC, Burger King and Ikea - and found none from Husi Shanghai.

Meanwhile, regarding reports about the illegal sale of genetically modified rice on the mainland, Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man said the government did not know if any of the rice had been imported into Hong Kong.

Currently, it is illegal to commercially grow and sell GM rice on the mainland, but there are no laws to regulate the sale of GM food in Hong Kong.

Ko said the government encouraged retailers to label GM food and it would hold talks with the Legco food safety panel about stricter regulation and labelling.