Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Hairy crabs finally arrive in Hong Kong, but vendors aren’t happy

First batch of the year arrived in Hong Kong on Friday, but local authorities have told sellers to wait until more tests are completed before they go on sale

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 10:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 October, 2017, 10:54pm

Local hairy crab vendors have cried foul over a request from authorities to withhold sales for at least 10 days, despite the first batch of crabs for the year arriving in the city on Friday.

Vendors worry the stock will die if they have to wait this long.

After a year-long halt on exports of Chinese mitten crabs, or hairy crabs, mainland authorities finally permitted a batch from Hunan province, weighing 500kg in total, to enter the city through Man Kam Road border checkpoint. The supplies had already passed safety tests on the mainland.

What’s behind the ban on hairy crabs from the mainland and what Hongkongers can do about it

But Hong Kong food inspectors have asked vendors to wait for up to two weeks until results of local tests are released before selling the stock.

The new arrangement was prompted by a food contamination scandal last year, where three samples of mainland crabs were found to have excessive levels of cancer-causing chemicals dioxin and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls.

Around 10 local sellers, who spent HK$200,000 collectively on the mainland supplies, were angered by the tightened safety measures and said all the crabs would have expired before the test results come out.

“The government told us that if we sell the crabs now, we will have to bear the legal consequences if they are eventually found to be contaminated,” said Tommy Chan Tiu-ming, owner of Shanghai New Sam Yung Market, a major hairy crab trader.

“But we can’t wait for so long. All the crabs will die and the investment down the drain,” Chan said, adding that previously, the testing and sale of mainland hairy crabs were conducted simultaneously.

A spokeswoman for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said the testing for dioxin and dioxin-like polychlorinated biphenyls took around two weeks because it was a “nuanced” test for very small amounts of such chemicals.

Cancer-linked chemicals found in Hong Kong hairy crab

“We stepped up the food safety measures because last year, we had to recall the contaminated hairy crabs that were already on sale,” said the spokeswoman. “A lot of people had already eaten them. The impact was huge.”

She added that the government had long advised traders to only import small batches of mainland crabs and wait until the they tested safe before importing them in bulk to avoid business risks.

Since the halt on mainland exports last November, some local sellers switched to sourcing from Taiwan and Japan but said they were less popular than mainland breeds as their roes – what hairy crabs are prized for – differed in taste and quantity.