Some retailers still selling meat bought before ban Officials are investigating allegations that food suppliers have been smuggling beef from countries banned from exporting the meat to Hong Kong because of fears of mad cow disease. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it had received a tip-off that suppliers were using deceptive methods to illegally import beef from Canada. But it declined to confirm reports that suppliers were smuggling the meat to Hong Kong via Macau. Hong Kong banned beef imports from Canada in May last year, from the United States last December and from Japan in September 2001 after cases of mad cow disease were reported in these countries. Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said yesterday that although the government had a good system for detecting illegal imports, it was difficult to target individual travellers who smuggled meat. He urged people to carefully check the origin of beef before buying. Under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, beef importers must obtain permission from the Food, Environment and Hygiene Department. They must also have health certificates issued by the authorities of exporting countries. The maximum penalties for smuggling beef are a $50,000 fine and six months' jail. Customs officials say 26,204kg of beef was imported or exported illegally this year from January to October, compared with only 437kg last year. The dramatic rise was mainly due to a single case in which officers confiscated 24,187 kg of smuggled beef. Customs officials said most smuggling cases involved beef from the mainland, not overseas. Some local food vendors yesterday admitted they had continued to sell frozen beef from the US, despite the ban on imports of American beef. ParknShop still sells frozen beef imported from the US before the ban. Spokeswoman Teresa Pang Sau-kwan said fewer than 10 ParknShop supermarkets were still selling the beef and they had no intention to stop selling it despite the fears of mad cow disease. Pre-ban US beef is also still being sold at frozen food shops in Wan Chai markets. Dr Chow said a team had been sent to Canada to check on farms and slaughter houses. Team members found the situation was satisfactory and were considering lifting the ban on Canadian beef. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, is a fatal brain disorder found in cows. It has a connection to a fatal brain disorder in humans called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.