Hong Kong government to mull new ways of stamping live pigs to confirm consumption safety before slaughter

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department says the procedure has to be ‘followed straight’ and live pigs suspected to be contaminated will be held until test results come in

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2016, 2:59pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 August, 2016, 11:28pm

The government is considering new ways of stamping pigs to confirm the animals have been inspected and deemed safe for consumption amid a series of improvements, as police continue to investigate possible foul play behind the tainted pork scare.

Director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department Vivian Lau Lee-kwan said the 319 pigs from mainland farms were likely to be drugged “not very long” before they were sent to the slaughterhouse in Hong Kong, as the level of prohibited chemicals was unusually high – meaning they were not contaminated at the farms where they were sourced from.

If drugging occurred at the farms, the chemicals would be mostly passed out of the animals’ systems by the time they reached the city, and only low levels would be detected.

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The pigs’ urine samples were found to contain 23 to 4,800 parts per billion of prohibited chemicals - compared to just 1 to 24 parts detected in a previous contamination.

“From now on, the procedure has to be followed straight. That means all live pigs suspected to be contaminated and pending test results, will be held [from slaughtering and being sent to the market].”

Lau apologised again on Saturday morning for releasing 40 contaminated pigs into the market earlier this month due to the miscommunication of two inspection teams.

She explained two batches of pigs from Jiangxi province had been mixed in the slaughterhouse, making it hard for the department to trace the tainted batch later.

She added the department would consider stamping the pigs with more information, such as their arrival dates into Hong Kong.

She also apologised for wrongly naming 16 out of 27 retailers over the sale of the tainted pork, when only 11 turned out to have been affected.

They were among a list of 27 retailers exposed by the department a day after the detection of tainted pork on August 5.

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“The names of these retailers were provided by the wholesalers and distributers, who were also found in this incident to not have kept their transaction records properly.”

“We hope the public understand we only name the retailers to prevent people from consuming the tainted pork,” Lau said.

One pork traders’ group, which suffered losses in the incident and damage in reputation, said it was planning legal action against the government, slaughterhouse and the mainland pork wholesaler.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man promised to compensate all 27 retailers for their losses in accordance with the market value after 3,500 kilograms of pork had to be destroyed. The pork is sold at around $50 per catty in the market.

He said the government would shorten the time for tests, enhance training and communication among staff, and establish a better tracing system by helping traders to keep comprehensive records of transactions.

Around 4,000 pigs from the mainland and 200 pigs from local farms are supplied to Hong Kong’s market on a daily basis.