Lawmakers call for stricter health screening for imported pigs

Fewer urine samples are taken from mainland pigs than those produced locally, lawmakers have said

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 11:10pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 January, 2017, 1:45am

Lawmakers have called for tighter inspections of imported pigs as it emerged that fewer urine samples are collected from mainland pigs than from local pigs.

The call comes after the outbreak of the tainted pork scandal in August last year, when a batch of 40 pigs with illegal food additives were sent to retailers across the city.

Helena Wong Pik-wan, chairwoman of the Legislative Council’s food safety panel, said the current mechanism of testing one in every 10 local pigs but just two from each batch from mainland farms was inadequate.

“Now it is possible to check two pigs only even there are 100 to 200 pigs [from a farm]. I am concerned that pigs [with problems] could be mixed into the batch,” said Wong, who spoke after visiting the Sheung Shui Slaughterhouse with six other panel members to understand more about the procedure of pig slaughtering and how food safety surveillance was carried out.

Wong hoped that more urine samples could be collected from mainland pigs for a tighter inspections in future.

Hong Kong tainted pork scandal: questions on inspection process still hog public attention

According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, there are around 3,900 mainland pigs and 250 local pigs supplied for consumption in the city every day.

Urine samples are collected by officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department from live pigs to test for veterinary drug residues.

Pigs would then be slaughtered only if test results showed the pigs were fit for consumption.

Another panel member, Steven Ho Chun-yin, was concerned whether there were loopholes in the prosecution process if prohibited drugs were found in pigs.

“If pigs with problems were found in mainland or local farms, how many prosecutions were made even they were not sent to the markets? What is the conviction rate?” asked Ho.

The effectiveness of local food quality control was in spotlight in early August after staff from the slaughterhouse failed to stick to safety protocols, leading to pigs tainted with prohibited asthma medicine being delivered to retailers.

Police were alerted as the government suspected the pigs were “drugged” with an unusually high level of illegal chemicals on their way to Hong Kong.

The government admitted there was inadequate communication between staff, and has since strengthened monitoring measures.

A Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokesman said the number of local and imported pigs sampled was based on a monitoring mechanism which adhered to international practices and risk assessments. Around 70 to 100 urine samples are collected from imported pigs and 20 to 40 from local pigs daily, the spokesman said.