The welfare chief yesterday admitted that the maximum $5,000 fine on animal abusers was insufficient but offered no timetable on toughening the penalty. Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok drew criticism from animal lovers and welfare groups, with the 108 Action Group expressing their 'anger' towards Dr Chow's 'apathy'. The group had organised a march last month, attended by 5,000 people, calling for tougher penalties. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals demanded the immediate introduction of a tougher penalty, such as a fine of up to $100,000, to bring the city in line with global standards. In response to a query by legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee on animal abuse penalties, Dr Chow blamed the courts for being too lenient on the convicted, saying fines ranged from $200 to $4,000 with jail sentences of only a month. 'The law and the level of fine were enacted many years ago and there is a need to increase the fine. At least the current $5,000 maximum fine is insufficient,' he said. The Cruelty to Animals Ordinance was enacted in 1979 and allows for a maximum fine of $5,000 and six months in jail. Dr Chow said the government was now drawing on overseas references regarding the maximum penalty, but no timetable for harsher punishment had been imposed. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department dealt with 224 and 185 cases of animal abuse in 2004 and last year respectively. Only 29 cases led to prosecution and resulted in a total of 16 convictions. The welfare chief said most abuse was in the form of negligence or under-care while intentional abuse was rare. He also rejected a full review on the law, saying increased enforcement and penalties would address the problem. The 108 Action Group, which was formed after a spate of cat abuse cases last year, disputed Dr Chow's comment that intentional abuse was uncommon, saying they received at least one complaint a week. SPCA deputy director Fiona Woodhouse said the government had been working on developing stiffer penalties for eight years. 'It is very important we move forward with this because serious penalties will act as a deterrent.'