Director baulks at food-safety centre

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 September, 2005, 12:00am

The director of food and environmental hygiene does not want to take charge of a new centre for food safety.

Gregory Leung Wing-lup said the government was studying various options for the new centre, but said putting it under his department would make it too bulky.

'I am not lazy, but our department is just too big,' Mr Leung said. 'We have to take care of a long list of works and we should also spend more time on issues outside food safety. I think the chance of having the centre under us is rather small.'

After a series of food scares including the pig-borne disease caused by the Streptococcus suis bacteria and malachite green contamination of freshwater fish, health minister York Chow Yat-ngok announced last month that a dedicated centre for food safety would be set up next year.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is one of the biggest with 11,000 staff and 7,000 contracted workers. It has a wide range of duties including inspection of restaurants, wet markets and hawkers, street cleaning, refuse collection, management of cemeteries and public toilets, handling of environmental nuisances, and pest and mosquito control.

Mr Leung's objections mean the centre may be put under the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, which has around 2,000 staff, or be established as an independent department under the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau.

'Many lawmakers want the centre be an independent department but, in terms of resources, is it the best option,' Mr Leung asked.

He believes it will not be a big problem to put the centre under the agriculture and fisheries department.

'Now our department inspects farms on the mainland, it is similar to what the agriculture and fisheries department does on Hong Kong farms.'

Thomas Chan Yan-keung, director of the Centre for Food and Drug Safety at the Chinese University, said the new centre should be independent and have power over the two existing departments.

'There should also be a committee to advise the government on food safety. It should be formed by experts from different sectors,' Professor Chan said. 'During the malachite green crisis, it was always health officials who spoke to the media. If there are independent experts speaking on the subject, their messages will be more professional and convincing.'