A decision to exempt three pesticides from a new food safety law was not a case of "giving in" to the mainland, the Food and Health Bureau said yesterday.
The pesticides - triphenyltin hydroxide, fosetyl aluminium and thidiazuron - were set to be regulated alongside about 350 others under the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation, which comes into force on August 1.
But the bureau exempted the pesticides from the law in an amendment submitted to the Legislative Council in January. It justified its decision by saying the mainland and the United States differed over how to define residue limits - the amount of pesticide in a food product - and that these differences could cause difficulties in laboratory analysis.
It was not specified whether the US or the mainland standards had the lower limits.
The bureau was criticised for giving in to the mainland, as its decision followed advice from the mainland's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, which had also pointed out a lack of international consensus in regulating the three chemicals.
The mainland agency had also noted differences in defining residue limits.
A spokesman for the bureau said yesterday it was "not consistent with the facts" to suggest the bureau had "given in" to the mainland.
He said the bureau's decision was based on its own consideration of international practices. The bureau had conducted scientific risk assessments, he said, adding that excluding the three pesticides from the law would not pose a risk to the public as they were "not highly toxic".
The bureau would monitor international developments surrounding the pesticides and would table further amendments to the law if necessary, he said.
However, Professor Chan King-ming, of the School of Life Sciences at Chinese University, said the move "was definitely related to the pressure from the mainland".
He said it showed the city lacked a mechanism to set its own safety standards for pesticide residue in food and urged it to make its own standards based on local consumption.
Legco's food safety and environmental hygiene panel will discuss the issue today. Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who sits on the panel, said she would try to challenge the exemption.