Food safety centre 'can do more'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am

The new Food Safety Centre needs more resources to be more effective in protecting consumers against tainted products, legislators said.

They aired their concerns yesterday after being told that the centre, set up after contamination scares involving food imported from the mainland, would hold 2,000 more tests each year than the 61,000 handled previously. Site visits to mainland farms would rise from 20 to 35.

'We expect the centre to do more than that,' said Liberal Party lawmaker Tommy Cheung Yue-yan, who represents the catering industry. 'More staff are to be hired, but they have to do other things.'

Legislative Council food safety and environmental hygiene panel chairman Fred Li Wah-ming questioned the effectiveness of source control measures. 'With so much emphasis on source control, only 35 site visits will be carried out? Many mainland farms export food to Hong Kong,' he said.

The centre was formally set up in May after a series of food scares last year, including discovery of the cancer-causing chemical malachite green in fish and an outbreak of pig-borne Streptococcus suis.

Centre controller Mak Sin-ping told a panel meeting that most of the 70 staff to be recruited during the financial year would work on risk management, assessment and communication. 'About 10 will be responsible for food tests,' she said. Other extra staff would handle the rising number of food complaints.

Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai, said tests were carried out by the government laboratory, and other support measures were needed to conduct more tests. 'We have to find bigger offices to house more equipment in order to do more tests. It is not just about hiring more manpower,' she said.