Indonesian authorities investigating how oilfish exported to Hong Kong was mislabelled as cod believe a government laboratory may have been asked by a Hong Kong importer to label it as cod.
The city's Justice Department is considering whether to prosecute supermarket chain ParknShop for selling mislabelled oilfish. The fish, which contains waxy deposits some people cannot digest, caused diarrhoea in 14 customers, who complained to the Centre for Food Safety. ParknShop says a certificate issued by the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries identified the oilfish as cod.
'Initial findings suggest staff from the government laboratory were told by a Hong Kong importer that Hong Kong people take oilfish as cod and to produce such a certificate,' said Haris Munandar, commercial consul at the Indonesian consulate in Hong Kong.
'We are still investigating whether it is true.'
Laboratory staff found to have done so would face disciplinary action, Dr Haris said.
A spokesman for Sea Ocean, one of three Hong Kong importers of oilfish named by the Centre for Food Safety, denied any such request was made. The other two importers, King Asia Marine Product Co and Fortune Enterprises, were unavailable for comment.
Last night, at a meeting attended by dozens of people who fell ill after eating oilfish, Democrat legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan said the party would help them fight for compensation from ParknShop. Some victims said they had spent as much as HK$10,000 on medical expenses.
The Customs and Excise Department has asked the Justice Department to find out whether shops selling mislabelled oilfish breached the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.
'Hong Kong customs will conduct criminal investigations if the legal advice is affirmative, and will prosecute anyone who has contravened the Trade Descriptions Ordinance if there is sufficient evidence,' a customs spokesman said.
The centre has received 670 complaints and inquiries from the public about oilfish, which supermarket chain Wellcome and other stores have also passed off as cod. Supermarkets, frozen food stores and restaurants have withdrawn oilfish from sale at the government's request.
Wellcome is considering seeking compensation from Sea Ocean.