Food and agriculture

Food safety and public health in Hong Kong would benefit from the expertise of the veterinary profession

  • Hong Kong could consider following the example of the European Commission, which has veterinary surgeons playing a large role in ensuring food safety
PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 7:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 7:45am

We would like to support the recent letter from the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences at City University (“Let Hong Kong’s veterinary surgeons do more to ensure the safety of local livestock and meat imports”, December 4.) The letter draws attention to the recently published Audit Commission report on the Centre for Food Safety and import control of food, which highlighted that over 90 per cent of food for human consumption in Hong Kong was imported (“Almost all food imported into Hong Kong by air getting through without safety documents”, November 28).

The audit review covered both imported and locally produced foods, including assessment of food safety risks, food surveillance programmes, management of food incidents and complaints, and communicating with the public on food safety risks.

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What is evident from the review is the importance of the unique expertise of the veterinary profession, which is critical to safeguarding the well-being of animals and maintaining high standards of food safety for the public in many countries.

One good example is the European Commission, which has established a successful model for food safety control involving official veterinarians. The Hong Kong government could adopt a similar approach.

The government should consider engaging in a partnership with the new veterinary school in Hong Kong to make food safety and public health a priority for the veterinary profession, to develop their expertise in this area.

In addition, unlike many international food safety advisory bodies, there is so far no one from the veterinary profession appointed to the Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene in Hong Kong. Veterinary professionals can make contributions to food safety by helping Hong Kong’s veterinary public health standards catch up with the best practices in other countries.

Currently, there are five directorate-grade officers from the medical profession appointed to the Centre for Food Safety but none from other professions. This reflects a seriously deep-rooted problem that goes back to the establishment of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Centre for Food Safety: the gap between the veterinary profession and the long-term development of food safety and veterinary public health, including zoonotic diseases, food of animal origin, animal health and hygiene issues.

Olivia Chan, chairman, Association of Veterinary Public Health and Animal Welfare, Hong Kong