Pricier greens as pesticide rule kicks in

Cost of four most popular vegetable varieties rises 30pc after testing is tightened on imports

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 2:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 August, 2014, 2:45am

A lawmaker yesterday promised to look into whether a recent rise in vegetable prices was linked to a new rule limiting pesticide residues on imported produce.

Under regulations that took effect on August 1, food cannot be sold in or imported into the city if pesticide residues exceed a specified level.

The new rule, which tightens testing on produce, coincided with an average price increase of 30 per cent in the city's four most popular vegetable varieties - leaf mustard, white long beans, green string beans and spinach.

Yesterday, Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan visited Cheung Sha Wan wholesale vegetable market with district council member Josephine Chan Shu-ying to investigate.

"We want to stress it is not conclusive that the new rule is responsible for the price increase," Wong said.

"Rather, we are concerned that the soil and water used to cultivate vegetables on the mainland may be polluted by heavy metals and pesticides, and we want the government to step up its inspection efforts."

The Legislative Council's food safety and environmental hygiene panel will meet to look into the rise in vegetable prices on September 3.

Chan said of the four affected varieties, mainland farmers tended to use the most pesticides with leaf mustard and white long beans. The rule might thus have affected suppliers' abilities to meet the new standards, she said.

The district councillor urged the Food and Health Bureau to look into the issue as the new rule would have a long-term effect on the city's vegetable supply.

"The Hong Kong government should ask the mainland authorities to provide more information about the pesticide levels in its vegetables," Wong said.

More than 90 per cent of vegetables sold in Hong Kong come from the mainland, a Vegetable Marketing Organisation representative said.

Imported vegetables may undergo less stringent checks than local produce, he suggested. "Organic" labels, for example, might not be verified, he said.

Of the 500 registered mainland farms from which Hong Kong imports vegetables, only 16 are surveyed by Hong Kong authorities each year, said Food and Health Bureau principal assistant secretary Jeff Leung Wing-yan.

But he insisted mainland produce inspections were of a high standard.

"There is a very stringent system managed by the mainland authorities at the import, wholesale and retail levels," Leung said. "We will continue to step up efforts in monitoring vegetable imports."

Leung added that it was still hard to gauge the effect of the new rule as it had kicked in only recently. The recent price increases were also within the normal range of vegetable pricing fluctuations, he said.