Five Hong Kong hairy crab distributors cry foul over alleged links with mainland Chinese farms

Centre for Food Safety found two out of five crab samples linked to Jiangsu farms contained excessive levels of cancer-causing substances

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 7:39pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 November, 2016, 12:20am

At least five hairy crab distributors in Hong Kong have cried foul over being named by authorities for sourcing contaminated crabs from two mainland Chinese farms, with one threatening to take legal action.

The Centre for Food Safety announced on Tuesday that two out of five hairy crab samples it tested were found to contain excessive levels of dioxin and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls. Both are highly toxic chemical compounds that can cause cancer and damage the reproductive and immune systems.

The watchdog issued a list of 15 local distributors which allegedly imported hairy crabs from two mainland farms at Lake Tai in eastern Jiangsu province.

However, at least five named distributors – Wah Kee Wing Cheong, Shing Lung Hong, Old San Yang, China Resources Ng Fung International Distribution Company and Yuk Hoi Trading – said they did not source their crabs from the two companies managing the farms.

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Four claimed the crabs they sold or distributed were raised on their own farms around Lake Tai.

Three of them also said they had commissioned Hong Kong-registered laboratories to test the products from their own farms to prove that their crabs were safe for consumption.

Hairy crabs are raised in different farms around Lake Tai, but they are exported only through a handful of companies authorised by the China Inspection and Quarantine Services, according to industry sources.

The five distributors said in similar statements that they dealt with only one of the aquaculture farms in question to help with import and customs clearance procedures.

Linda Li Chi-ching, one of the owners of Shing Lung Hong, said there were only a limited number of importers registered with Hong Kong’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

“These companies have good past records and it is not so easy to get on the list,” she said.

She criticised the Centre for Food Safety for its “across-the-board” approach in naming companies without verifying whether the distributors received their stock from the problematic farms.

Li added that they would consider taking legal action, while another distributor, Old San Yang, had already sent a legal letter to the department on Tuesday.

Stephen Chu, director of Wah Kee Wing Cheong, said it was a common practice in the industry to let other companies handle exports as it was more cost effective.

“There has not been any problem over the years,” he said, adding that they would think of other means to import goods next year.

Neither Shing Lung Hong nor Wah Kee Wing Cheong removed their stock from their shelves, saying they were confident their crabs were safe for consumption.

Meanwhile, Xinhua on Tuesday reported the Jiangsu farms involved the case had exported 3.8 tonnes and 210 tonnes to Hong Kong. Provincial authorities reportedly banned both of the farms’ crabs and an investigative group was following up.

In a response to Post inquiries about whether the Centre for Food Safety had verified the source of the crabs with each listed retailer, a centre spokesman said they looked at the official health certificates and declaration forms that distributors were required to provide in going through customs in Hong Kong. It said the certificate and other information provided listed the specific number of the farm where the crabs came from.

The spokesman said most distributors had already sold all their tainted crabs. The authorities had recalled some 890 kilograms of hairy crabs as of Wednesday, he added.

The centre did not respond to questions on whether it would compensate distributors if they wrongly accused any of them about the crab’s origins.

Additional reporting Danny Mok