Proposed Division of Responsibilities Concerning
Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene Matters
At the meeting of the LegCo Bills Committee on the Provision of
Municipal Services (Reorganization) Bill on 27 July 1999, Members asked
the Administration to provide a paper elaborating the following:
- the procedures for the proposed Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
(FEHD) to co-ordinate with the Department of Health (DH) and Agriculture
and Fisheries Department (AFD) in the surveillance, investigation, assessment
and control of outbreak of food-borne diseases, using the examples of the
avian flu crisis, suspected food contamination caused by dioxin and presence
of ciguatera toxin in coral reef fish;
- the authorities for each step of action described in (a);
- the comparison of the existing and proposed procedures and workflow
for dealing with food and environmental hygiene matters;
- the existing and proposed arrangements for secondment of health
officers from Department of Health, the line of command and their sphere
of responsibilities; and
- the authorities for identification, assessment, control and prevention
of communicable diseases, including those involving bathing beaches, livestock
2. This paper sets out the current division of responsibilities between
the relevant government agencies in dealing with food safety and environmental
hygiene matters and the Administration's initial thinking on the proposed
division of responsibilities under the new structure to be set up by 1
Current Division of Responsibilities
3. The major bodies involved in food safety and environmental hygiene
are the two Provisional Municipal Councils (PMCs), the Urban Services Department
(USD) and Regional Services Department (RSD), the Health and Welfare Bureau
(HWB), the Department of Health (DH), the Economic Services Bureau (ESB),
the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD), the Planning, Environment
and Lands Bureau (PELB), and the Environmental Protection Department (EPD).
Their functions are summarised below, and illustrated in a diagram at Appendix I. Other bodies also involved include the Government Laboratory which
analyses food products for regulatory compliance and the Hospital Authority
which is responsible for treatment of communicable and foodborne diseases.
Provisional Municipal Councils and Municipal Services Departments
4 The PMCs are statutory bodies which enjoy a high degree of autonomy
in setting policies and utilising resources in the provision of services
and facilities within their regions. They are financially autonomous
and have powers to make by-laws applicable to their regions under the Public
Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132). USD and RSD are
the executive arms of the PMCs. The PMCs are responsible for a host
of functions relating to food safety and hygiene, including the setting
of certain food standards (such as milk and frozen confections), licensing
and inspection of food premises (such as food factories, restaurants, fresh
provision shops), management and hygiene of markets, meat inspection in
abattoirs, licensing of private slaughterhouses, etc. They
are also the major bodies responsible for environmental hygiene, including
street cleansing, pest control, waste collection, and control of disposal
of the dead.
Department of Health
5. The DH is the Government's health adviser and the agency for
executing health care policies and statutory functions. The Hygiene
Division of DH is funded by the PMCs. The Division is responsible
for the control of food safety of imported and locally produced food.
It runs a regular food surveillance programme, taking food samples
for laboratory testing at the import, wholesale and retail levels.
The Division also provides advice to the two PMCs on pest control and health
education. Moreover, the PMCs have delegated certain food safety-related
functions in Cap. 132 and its Bylaws to staff of the Hygiene Division,
such as powers for approval of sources of manufacture of imported milk
and frozen confections.
Agriculture and Fisheries Department
6. The AFD is responsible for control measures on live animals
and poultry at farms, import and wholesale market levels, and related matters
such as control of pesticides, monitoring of red tides and tracing of ciguatera
toxin contaminated fish. It is also responsible for licensing dairies
and the prevention and control of diseases transmissible from animals to
man such as rabies.
Environmental Protection Department
7. The EPD is responsible for waste disposal and reduction, and the
prevention and control of air, noise and water pollution.
8. DH reports to the Health and Welfare Bureau while also being
accountable to the PMCs in food safety and hygiene matters. AFD reports
to the Economic Services Bureau (except for country parks and conservation,
which are the policy responsibility of PELB) and EPD reports to the Planning,
Environment and Lands Bureau.
Hygiene Services Committee and Interdepartmental Co-ordination
9. To facilitate liaison and co-ordination between the PMCs and
other relevant government departments, an administrative co-ordinating
body called "Hygiene Services Committee" has been set up. The
Committee is chaired by the Director of Health and consists of members
drawn from the two PMCs, the two Municipal Services Departments, and other
relevant bodies such as HWB and AFD. They meet at periodic intervals
during normal times, and more frequently during a "food crisis" or epidemic
outbreaks. In case of incidents such as a massive outbreak of foodborne
disease, ad hoc interdepartmental committees may be convened to co-ordinate
the activities of Government departments concerned.
Current Management of Food and Environmental Hygiene Hazards
10. Depending on the nature and source of food and environmental hygiene
hazards, DH, USD, RSD, AFD and sometimes EPD are involved in the surveillance,
investigation, assessment and control of outbreak of diseases. At
the policy level, HWB, ESB, PELB and the two PMCs are also involved.
A flowchart on the current management of food hazards in general is at
Appendix II. The broad division of responsibilities between the operational
departments is summarized below.
11. DH, USD, RSD, AFD, EPD each has its own surveillance programmes
concerning different aspects of food and environmental hygiene. They
- DH: disease surveillance and monitoring, food surveillance programme
(including surveillance of imported fresh produce such as vegetables and
milk, local food products and food complaints);
- USD and RSD: regular inspections of food premises, handling of food
complaints, meat inspection in abattoirs, monitoring the hygiene conditions
of public markets, and controlling street hawkers, etc.;
- AFD: surveillance of hygiene of local livestock and poultry farms,
surveillance of livestock and poultry at import points, holding lairages
and on farms, instituting a reporting and registration system for coral
fish harvesting zones; and
- EPD: monitoring water quality of beaches, including E-coli density.
There are established procedures among the relevant departments for
reporting suspected cases of food or environmental hygiene hazards found
during the surveillance.
12. In case of suspected incidents of food or environmental hygiene
hazards, DH, USD, RSD, AFD and EPD may be involved in the investigation
depending on the nature of the incident. Their respective roles are
- DH investigates patients/food poisoning victims and other exposed
persons, and participates in joint investigation on possible sources of
infection if necessary. It will also seek advice and information
from international or overseas health authorities (e.g. World Health Organization)
- USD and RSD investigate and trace source of contamination on the
food chain, in particular food premises and market stalls, and participate
in joint investigation with DH when necessary;
- AFD investigates cases involving animal diseases (e.g. H5 influenza
in birds) and veterinary drug residues (e.g. clenbuterol) etc., and traces
the source and outlets of ciguatera contaminated reef fish; and
- EPD investigates cases concerning sudden deterioration of beach
13. In case of a massive outbreak of communicable/foodborne disease,
an interdepartmental co-ordinating committee will be convened to co-ordinate
efforts by the relevant departments to tackle the problem, including taking
concerted action to investigate the disease. An example is the Interdepartmental
Co-ordinating Committee on H5N1 to co-ordinate control measures across
14. DH normally takes the lead in assessing the impact of food or environmental
hygiene hazard on public health while AFD is responsible for assessment
of impact on veterinary public health and the farming and fishery industries.
Interdepartmental co-ordination and co-operation is often required in case
of a massive outbreak of disease. The PMCs are informed or consulted
on the assessment as appropriate.
Control and Prevention
15. Concerted action by the relevant departments is often needed to
control and prevent the spread of the disease. Decisions are often
made by an interdepartmental co-ordinating committee or after interdepartmental
consultation. Each department is then responsible for control and
preventive measures within their respective portfolio. Examples of
the control and preventive measures undertaken by the departments are as
- DH may step up sampling of affected food items, initiate suspension
of sale of suspected food items and their withdrawal from sale, or order
an area or premises to be isolated to prevent the spread of infectious
disease under the Prevention of the Spread of Infectious Diseases Regulations
(Cap.141 sub. leg.), etc. DH will maintain close contact with the
international or overseas health authorities where appropriate;
- USD and RSD may assist DH in sampling and inspection of food, step
up inspection of food premises and cleansing of public markets, or close
the affected beaches temporarily;
- AFD may step up the surveillance of the live poultry/livestock concerned,
contact with the main supplier on appropriate preventive work, or trace
back to the likely origin and trace forward to the retail outlets; and
- EPD may step up the monitoring of water quality of the affected
beaches or ensure the proper disposal of contaminated food items
or dead poultry, etc.
16. The departments concerned will be involved in risk communication
with the public and the affected trade. Certain control and preventive
measures may require the review and amendments of policies and legislation.
The relevant policy bureaux and the PMCs will be involved in the process.
17. Under the current structure, three policy bureaux, two PMCs and
five departments are involved in the management of food and environmental
hygiene hazards. The fragmentation of responsibilities has led to
a lack of central point of direction for the overall co-ordination and
direction on food safety and environmental hygiene matters. This
undermines our ability to deal with large scale food safety or environmental
hygiene emergencies, which by nature require quick central decision and
large scale mobilisation of resources among different departments/bodies
within very limited time.
Proposed New Structure
18. Under the proposed new structure, the Food and Environmental Hygiene
Department (FEHD) will be responsible for all major aspects of food safety
and environmental hygiene. In addition to Health Inspectors, it will
have professional staff drawn from DH and AFD. Health and veterinary
officers, whose major responsibilities include the provision of professional
advice and/or execution of functions in relation to food safety will be
formally seconded from DH and AFD and be accountable to the Director of
Food and Environmental Hygiene. The new department will adopt a multi-pronged
approach to manage food safety and environmental hygiene.
19. Moreover, the proposed new Environment and Food Bureau to whom FEHD,
AFD and EPD are accountable will play an overall co-ordinating role to
and provide policy direction on food safety and environmental hygiene matters.
It will facilitate the pooling of resources for formulating and implementing
territory-wide policies and action plan and strengthening the food control
systems. It will also enhance the food surveillance and research
programmes, with greater emphasis on prevention of food and environmental
Future Management of Food and Environmental Hygiene Hazards
20. After the reorganization, the line of command relating to management
of food and environmental hygiene hazards will become more streamlined.
It will mainly be focused on the proposed Environment and Food Bureau.
The proposed FEHD will play an enhanced role in the surveillance, investigation,
assessment, control and prevention of food and environmental hygiene hazards.
21. Nevertheless, depending on the nature and extent of the incident,
it is difficult for FEHD to undertake full responsibilities. Following
the reorganization, DH will continue to be responsible for overall control
and prevention of communicable diseases in human being and act as Special
Administration Region's representative in global networking for disease
control. AFD will remain the authority for control of communicable
diseases in animals and birds. The departments will co-operate closely
under the overall co-ordination of the new Bureau.
22. For example, in case of incidents of food poisoning, notifications
will continue to be received from hospitals or clinics by DH. It
will then focus on clinical investigation of the patients and other exposed
persons and liaise with international or overseas health authorities where
appropriate. FEHD will trace the sources of infection or contamination
in connection with the food chain and environmental hygiene and take appropriate
control and preventive measures. AFD will be involved in exceptional circumstances
where drastic measures are required to control communicable diseases in
animals or birds such as declaration of places infected by such diseases
under the Public Health (Animals and Birds) Ordinance (Cap.139).
23. A flow chart on the future management of food hazards in general
is at Appendix III.
Constitutional Affairs Bureau
4 September 1999