Legislative Council Panel on Economic Services
Sustainable Development of the Pig Raising IndustryINTRODUCTION
This paper informs Members of the Administration's response to the submissions of the pig raising sector on the tattooing and testing system for live pigs, imports of chilled pork from Thailand and smuggling of pigs, and the follow-up measures that have been taken.
TATTOOING AND TESTING SYSTEM FOR LIVE PIGS
2. In April 1998, the Director of Health (DH) suspected that some members of the public suffered from food poisoning due to consumption of pig offal contaminated with residues of Clenbuterol, a β- agonist. Subsequent investigations revealed that local pig farmers fed pigs with such drugs. The Agriculture & Fisheries Department (AFD) then held discussions with the industry. On 8 August 1998, it implemented a tattooing and testing system for live pigs. Under this system, if live pigs with problems are identified, AFD can trace the farm of origin and take appropriate follow-up actions, with a view to safeguarding public health. This system involves mainly tattooing a five-digit number (tattoo number) on the bodies of the pigs. Based on the tattoo number, AFD can trace the farm of origin of each live pig to be sold. During the time between the pigs' entry into the slaughterhouse and slaughtering, AFD would conduct quick tests on urine samples collected from the pigs to detect the presence of residues of Clenbuterol or drugs of the same kind. If such residues are found in pig urine samples, it indicates that the whole batch of pigs with the same tattoo number have been fed with such drugs. Such residues may also be present in the meat or offal, which is not suitable for sale for consumption by the public. Under these circumstances, AFD would inform the meat traders concerned through the slaughterhouse of the positive testing results. The meat traders concerned may request the slaughterhouse to make arrangements for keeping their pigs in the lairages. If further testing does not show positive results, the pigs may be slaughtered. On the other hand, if the meat traders choose to have the problem pigs slaughtered, AFD would inform the Urban Services Department (USD) and the Regional Services Department (RSD) to withhold the batch of pig carcasses and offal concerned under Section 59 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, Cap 132, for detailed testing. USD and RSD would arrange with DH to take the carcasses to the cold store for storage, pending detailed testing of the carcasses or offal by the Government Laboratory. Should follow-up testing find no residues of β- agonist in the carcasses or offal, DH would inform USD and RSD to return the carcasses to the meat traders.
3. The pig raising sector considers that the testing mechanism should be improved to minimise human errors. If problems occur, the pig owners should be informed immediately and appropriate facilities should be arranged for keeping live pigs in the lairages pending further testing. Should further testing show negative results, the pigs concerned should be released for sale and slaughtering.
4. AFD has made every effort to ensure that the testing system is accurate and reliable. Sampling and testing of pig urine are carried out by trained personnel in accordance with established procedures and under the supervision of veterinary officers. A re-testing mechanism is in place to address pig farmers' concern that positive testing results might be due to human errors or swapping of pigs from different sources. In case of positive test results, AFD would notify the meat traders through the slaughterhouse. The meat traders may request the slaughterhouse to make arrangements for keeping their pigs in the lairages. The concerned pig farmers may go to the slaughterhouse in the afternoon of the next day to identify the pigs. AFD would take urine samples from those pigs again for re-testing. Those passing the re-tests may be slaughtered and traded while those still tested positive would be detained for further investigation and testing, until no further positive results are found. During the detention period, the meat traders would need to make arrangements with the slaughterhouse for keeping the problem pigs in the lairages.
Slaughtering of Pigs and Detention of Carcasses
5. The pig raising sector alleges that the pig owners are only informed of the problems with their pigs after such pigs have been slaughtered. The pig carcasses would then have to be detained in cold store, pending detailed testing. The above arrangements have caused losses to the pig owners.
6. The arrangements for pigs with positive urine testing results have been explained in detail in paragraph 4 above. In fact, the local pigs have been sold to the meat traders when the pigs reach the slaughterhouse. Therefore, AFD will inform the concerned meat traders through the slaughterhouse when the problem pigs have to be detained. It is up to the meat traders to decide whether the pigs are to be kept at the lairages or slaughtered and their carcasses kept in the cold store. Everyday, AFD would put up notices at the slaughterhouse and the lairages to publish the tattoo numbers of the pigs to be detained, so that the meat traders concerned could make an informed decision.
Tattoo Number and Number of Pig Tattooed
7. The pig raising sector considers that the need to obtain the tattoo number in advance would affect flexible transaction of pigs and suggests to allocate a fixed tattoo number for each pig farm, thus obviating the need to obtain the number from and report the number of pigs tattooed to AFD every time.
8. In fact, the present system is very simple and causes insignificant impact on flexible transaction of pigs. Under this system, pigs farmers may call the AFD hotline to obtain the tattoo number and report the number of pigs to be sold and their destined slaughterhouse. To facilitate farmers' arrangements for sale of pigs, AFD introduces evening service hours (7-9 p.m.) in addition to its normal office hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). It has also pledged that for telephone messages and faxes received from farmers during the aforementioned hours, return calls would be made within 30 minutes. Requests received outside the aforementioned hours will be processed in the following office hours as soon as possible.
9. The present system is designed to address the concern of the sector about unauthorised use of tattoo numbers. If there is a fixed tattoo number for each farm, that number would be easily known and used by others without authorisation, thus causing confusion in the course of investigation and affecting the effectiveness of the tattooing and testing system. If pig farmers need to make any changes after obtaining the tattoo number and reporting the number of pigs to be sold, they may call AFD again who would amend the record accordingly.
CONSULTATION AND FOLLOW-UP
10. From the planning to the implementation stages, AFD met representatives of the sector regularly and considered their opinions, with view to improving the tattooing and testing system to suit the trading practices of the sector. It also co-ordinated efforts of various Government departments in the implementation of the new system. Moreover, AFD wrote to various agricultural organisations several times, inviting them to nominate representatives to set up a working group, so that problems relating to the operation of the tattooing and testing system encountered by the sector could be discussed and handled. It hopes that the industry would nominate representatives as soon as possible, so that the working group could be formed.
CONTROL AND MONITORING OF IMPORT OF PORK FROM THAILAND
11. The pig raising sector considers that Government's control on the import of chilled pork from Thailand is not adequate. This not only affects food hygiene and safety, but also has a direct and adverse impact on the development of local pig raising industry.
12. To ensure food safety, Government has imposed stringent control under the Imported Game, Meat and Poultry Regulations on all meat imported from other places into Hong Kong. There is no exemption for pork imported from Thailand. Local importers are required to submit an application to the Director of Health before importation of meat. DH would decide whether to permit the importation of such meat into Hong Kong on a trial basis, having regard to factors such as, the animal disease situations in the exporting country, its laws on animal health and food safety monitoring, training of veterinary surgeons, professional standards of health inspectors, sanitary conditions of farms, facilities and operations of slaughterhouses, and the sanitation standards of food factories etc. During the trial importation period, each batch of imported meat must obtain the permission of the Director of Health prior to shipment and importation into Hong Kong. Besides, each batch of imported meat must be accompanied with a health certificate issued by the competent authority of the exporting country, certifying that the batch of meat, prior to shipment, has been checked to be free from harmful substances or infectious diseases and is suitable for human consumption. After reaching Hong Kong, the health inspectors stationed at the import control points would examine the health certificates and imported meat and take samples for testing. When the imported meat reaches the retail market, samples would also be taken for testing as in the case of local meat. DH would then decide whether the imported meat should be allowed to continue entering Hong Kong, having regard to its record of inspections and test results during the trial importation period. If the imported meat has a good record of passing inspections and tests during such period, it would not be required to apply to DH prior to each shipment. But each batch of imported meat would continue to be accompanied with a health certificate and subject to inspections and tests. As far as known by Government, imported chilled pork is kept in foam plastic boxes or thickened carton boxes with dry ice during transportation. No cases of transporting of chilled pork by importers by means of pig trucks, that ply between pig farms and slaughterhouses, have been found.
13. Importation of chilled pork from Thailand on a trial basis began in February last year. In 1998, DH took a total of 145 samples of imported meat for testing, of which 51 samples were chilled pork imported from Thailand. During the trial importation period, DH found traces of Clenbuterol in samples of Thai pork. It negotiated with the Thailand authority and the latter voluntarily stopped export of Thai pork to Hong Kong immediately. Moreover, the Thailand authority also designed and put in place a set of tattooing and testing measures to prevent the presence of Clenbuterol in pork exported to Hong Kong. Later on, the importation of chilled pork from Thailand into Hong Kong resumed. So far, inspections and testing by DH indicated that such meat did not contain β- agonist.
14. As regards the control on sale of chilled pork as fresh meat at retail outlets by the traders, under the Food Business (Regional Council) By-laws and the Food Business (Urban Council) By-laws, the sale of fresh or frozen meat (including pork) in Hong Kong requires a licence issued by the authorities concerned and compliance with the hygiene requirements. The commodities (e.g. fresh and/or chilled pork etc.) allowed to be sold are set out in the licence. Staff of RSD and USD would carry out regular inspections on fresh provision shops and wet market stalls and make prosecutions against offenders where appropriate.
15. The pig raising sector claims that the marketing of chilled pork from Thailand is manipulated by triads. However, the Police have not received any such reports.
SMUGGLING OF PIGS
16. The pig raising sector considers that smuggling of live pigs into Hong Kong is serious, which has an adverse impact on food hygiene and development of the local pig raising industry.
17. Government is very concerned about smuggling of live pigs into Hong Kong. The Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) vigilantly investigates live pig smuggling activities. It has also maintained close liaison with the Mainland customs authorities with regular meetings arranged to discuss ways to tackle cross-border smuggling activities. According to C&ED's information, three cases smuggling involving 580 live pigs were detected in 1998. It considers that smuggling of live pigs into Hong Kong is not serious. The aforementioned pig tattooing and testing system has, to a certain extent, helped to detect live pigs smuggled into Hong Kong. As regards smuggling of chilled pork into Hong Kong, C&ED would investigate when it receives reports or intelligence from importers or other reliable parties.
18. At the LegCo case conference held on 11 December and 23 December last year, Government discussed in detail the issues concerning the pig tattooing and testing system, imports of chilled pork from Thailand and smuggling of pigs etc. with Members of the Legislative Council and representatives of the sector. After the meeting, AFD provided the participating agricultural organisations with hotline telephone numbers of Government departments concerned, so that the industry could report illegal importation and sale of pigs to the concerned departments direct.
Agriculture and Fisheries Department