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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Hong Kong health minister forced to apologise over tainted meat scandal: 3,500kg of mainland pork destroyed

Ko Wing-man points to systemic problems as more than three tonnes of contaminated meat are removed from markets and destroyed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 August, 2016, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 10:48am

Hong Kong’s health minister had to make a public apology for the government’s failure to stop the sale of pork from the mainland contaminated with prohibited drugs, as more than three tonnes of the tainted meat were removed from markets and destroyed on Sunday.

Food and Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man admitted that mistakes had been made – possibly on “more than one level”– and there could be problems in the current testing and reporting mechanism for pig imports.

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“We must apologise, as on that day we failed to prevent these [tainted] pigs from entering the market,” Ko said. “The government may have made a mistake in one step, or possibly even more than one step, of the procedure ... Our mechanism may have a problem.”

His apology came as the order was given for more than 3,500kg of pork and pig offal – a tonne of it voluntarily surrendered by retailers – to be removed from markets and destroyed.

Ko said compensation to traders was being considered.

Last week, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) discovered 319 pigs with traces of Salbutamol and Clenbuterol. The drugs, commonly used to treat asthma, also artificially enhance animal growth and leanness. The pigs were from Jiangxi province.

Health experts say consuming pork with high levels of the drug can lead to an increased heart rate, dizziness, headaches, trembling and nervousness.

Ko said 59 pigs were sent to the government slaughterhouse operated by meat distributor Ng Fung Hong, but at least 40 more had already been sent to 27 retailers around the city. It was not known how much of the tainted pork was sold or consumed. The operator could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

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Trade groups and local residents found the fiasco unacceptable. “We completely placed our trust in the FEHD to ensure all pigs that reach our shops are safe after inspection,” said Hui Wai-kin, who represents the Pork Traders General Association of Hong Kong. “[The government] must give us a proper explanation and apologise to all businesses affected by this.”

“It is just ridiculous how the government can allow this to happen,” housewife Margaret Wong said at Bowrington Road Market in Wan Chai. “I think on the safe side, I will not be buying any fresh pork from the mainland for a while.”

It is understood that urine tests on samples taken from mainland pigs are conducted by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) at a government lab. Results take two to three hours and a test report is usually sent to an FEHD official at the slaughterhouse in the evening.

Last Thursday, the AFCD reported initial test results – positive for drugs – to the slaughterhouse at 10pm. Repeat tests were conducted, but somehow the pork was allowed to enter the market.

“In theory, even if tests suggest a positive result and need to be verified, the pigs should still be isolated first,” Ko said. “That night, the mechanism was unsuccessful in holding the pigs. That’s why they were able to enter the market.”

An investigation is under way and results are expected within two to three weeks.

Meanwhile, traders at a Sheung Wan wet market, where more than 1,000kg of pork and offal were removed on Sunday, were up in arms as officials arrived to remove meat from them despite the fact their pork was not sourced from Ng Fung Hong.

“I haven’t bought pigs from them for two years,” pork vendor Lai Hon-yuen said. “I will definitely take this up with them. I demand a clarification as this will affect my commercial reputation and this is very serious [for business].”