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Hong Kong courts

Hong Kong importer of tainted hairy crabs not guilty as court blames mainland China supplier

Court accepts importer’s defence that it had made best efforts to ensure safety

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 8:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 10:56pm

A Hong Kong company that imported contaminated hairy crabs from the mainland last year cleared its name on Friday after a court found its supplier was to blame for traces of highly toxic chemicals found in the delicacy.

Top Fresh Food was found not guilty after trial on one summons of offering unfit food for sale.

What’s behind the ban on hairy crabs from the mainland and what Hongkongers can do about it

The case centred on crabs sourced from Jiangsu province and intercepted by local authorities at Man Kam To Food Control Office in the New Territories on September 21 last year.

The discovery of excessive levels of highly toxic dioxins and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls prompted mainland authorities to ban exports of hairy crabs to the city.

The supplier is fully responsible
magistrate May Chung Ming-sun

Dioxins are persistent environmental pollutants that can cause reproductive and developmental problems as well as cancer, according to the Centre for Food Safety.

Tuen Mun Court heard that one sample from importer Top Fresh Food contained 40.3 picograms of the chemical compounds per gram of hairy crab. An acceptable level is 6.5 picograms

At this concentration, a centre expert testified, consuming 14 regular-sized crabs over the four-month period when the delicacy is in season would harm one’s health, requiring at least seven years for the ingested toxins to reduce by half. Given it was not uncommon for consumers to eat more than 20 crabs per season, the expert believed the hairy crabs in the present case were unfit for consumption.

But magistrate May Chung Ming-sun accepted Top Fresh Food’s defence that it had tried its best to ensure the crabs were safe for consumption.

Mainland halt on hairy crab exports keeps them off the menu in Hong Kong, as peak season nears

Chung considered that the company had repeatedly inspected the aquaculture farm in Jiangsu and ensured the crabs came with the necessary health certificates. As their packaging was intact and the documents came from the authorities, she agreed the company had no reason to suspect the crabs could be problematic.

“The supplier is fully responsible,” the magistrate said.

A centre spokesman said officials would study the judgment and consult the Department of Justice to decide on a future course of action.