Proposal for food safety centre sent back to the drawing board

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 January, 2006, 12:00am

The government is back to square one with plans for its Centre for Food Safety, after legislators criticised proposals they say marginalise vets and lack clarity.

They have questioned the need for the centre to have 44 health inspectors, wonder why a doctor, not a vet, has to head it and why controls on the mainland sources of Hong Kong's food are being side-stepped.

Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, of the catering sector, said: 'We want a genuine mechanism to ensure food safety and food hygiene. What's in the paper here cannot satisfy us. Is this package mainly for arresting and prosecuting people? What are the health inspectors for - to help people or arrest them?'

Kwok Ka-ki, of the medical sector, said several issues remained unresolved. 'You should explain very clearly to us what the Centre for Food Safety is. You must tell us your focal point.'

The Frontier's Emily Lau Wai-hing asked: 'Do we need a medical officer filling the controller post? We need somebody with the necessary expertise, be it a vet or be it a food scientist.'

Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai told a joint meeting of the Legislative Council's environment and food safety panels the government would go back to the drawing board.

She insisted veterinarians were being recognised. 'When necessary, we make full use of the expertise of our vet colleagues.' She also said the bureau had made efforts to control food at source but this was no substitute for law enforcement by mainland authorities.

Mrs Yau said the long-term goal was to make the food safety centre an independent agency.

This year's first case of the pig-borne disease Streptococcus suis was announced yesterday - a 69-year-old woman from Sha Tin who complained of fever, shoulder and foot pain a week ago.

She is in stable condition.

Thirteen cases of the potentially fatal viral condition were reported in Hong Kong last year.