Classifying them as food will allow supply ban on H5N1 farms The government has done a U-turn and will ask lawmakers to pass a bill reclassifying eggs as food - allowing it to control imports and ban those from countries with bird-flu outbreaks. The move was announced by health chiefs just a week after health minister York Chow Yat-ngok said there was no evidence to show eggs were a medium for spreading H5N1 and dismissed suggestions that a legal provision to ban imports of eggs was necessary. 'We are studying legislating for the regulation of eggs imported for human consumption, in accordance with the latest updating of the [United Nations] guideline on avian influenza relating to eggs,' a spokesman for the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau said. Dr Chow said reclassifying eggs as food would mean those from areas with H5N1 epidemics would require sanitary inspection certificates to ensure they came from healthy farms. He was speaking after a public-health function. There is currently no law regulating egg imports. In May, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), a UN organ, put out anti-bird flu guidelines. Among other things, the guidelines said that eggs for human consumption imported from places where highly toxic bird flu had occurred should have an international veterinary certificate attesting that they either came from a country free of the bird flu or from establishments or farms where there had been no evidence of the bird flu in 21 days, and should be transported in new packaging. Howard Wong Kai-hay, senior veterinary officer of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, said eggs were generally free of disease since infected chickens usually stop laying eggs. 'I will say that eggs in general are viewed as extremely low risk of bringing in avian influenza. 'The thing we are concerned about is environmental contamination. Most of the eggs being sold for human consumption would have been washed and polished anyway.' Since last year, Hong Kong has imposed guidelines on local hatcheries, including disinfection of eggs and issuance of certificates ensuring quality farming practices. 'These are the conditions which we require before we recognise a hatchery,' Dr Wong said. Until last year, there were no hatcheries in Hong Kong. 'When the supply of day-old chicks [from the mainland] dried up last year, they had to start hatcheries and we developed the licensing conditions.' The licensing conditions state that local chicken farmers may only source day-old chicks from recognised hatcheries. 'If there is an outbreak in Guangdong, for example, and the supply dries up, the local farmers would rely on the local hatcheries,' Dr Wong said.