Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (November 12):
The Food Safety Ordinance (Cap. 612) came into full operation in 2012. The Ordinance introduces a food tracing mechanism enabling the authorities to identify the sources of food more effectively and take prompt actions when dealing with food incidents. The food tracing mechanism includes the setting up of a registration scheme for food importers and food distributors (food traders) and a requirement for food traders to maintain food transaction records. However, some members of the public have pointed out that the recent incident of substandard edible lard from Taiwan revealed that the food tracing mechanism currently in place has failed to trace the sources and distribution of substandard lard expeditiously. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it will consider amending the relevant legislation to require food traders to make public their records on the acquisitions and supplies of food, raw materials or ingredients, as well as establishing an electronic database on food safety, so that the authorities and consumers will have better access to information on food manufacturers or suppliers, thereby enhancing the management of food safety information in Hong Kong; if it will consider, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) given that the radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has been in use in Hong Kong for years, which government departments are currently applying the RFID technology in their provision of services; whether it has conducted any study on the application of RFID technology to enhance the efficiency of the food tracing mechanism; if it has conducted such a study, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether it will allocate additional resources to assist food traders in applying the RFID technology in such areas as food testing and maintenance of transaction records?
The Food Safety Ordinance (Cap. 612) (the Ordinance) came into full operation on February 1, 2012. The Ordinance introduces a food tracing mechanism to enable the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to identify the source of food effectively and take prompt action when dealing with food incidents in order to safeguard public health. The mechanism consists mainly of the following components:
(a) a registration scheme for food importers and food distributors; and
(b) a requirement for food traders to maintain proper transaction records to enhance food traceability.
The Ordinance also empowers the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene (DFEH) to request traders which may be affected by food incidents to submit information on the trading and use of the relevant products within the time limits set.
My reply to the question is as follows:
(1) Under sections 21 to 24 of the Ordinance, a person who, in the course of business, imports or acquires food in Hong Kong must keep records of transactions with businesses from which the food was acquired. A person who, in the course of business, supplies food by wholesale must also keep records of transactions with businesses to which the food was supplied. Those who fail to do so commit an offence and are liable to a maximum fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for three months. According to the Ordinance, food also includes articles and substances used as ingredients in the preparation of food. Food manufacturers are therefore also required to keep records of the relevant transactions when they acquire raw materials.
Under section 27 of the Ordinance, DFEH may, for the purpose of exercising powers or performing functions under the Ordinance, require to inspect, make a copy of or take an extract from a record kept by these food traders. Section 28 of the Ordinance stipulates that DFEH may disclose to the public any information contained in such a record if DFEH is satisfied that public disclosure of the information is necessary for the protection of public health.
While the Ordinance does not specify a time limit for submission of such information, section 40(1) of the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Cap. 1) stipulates that “where any Ordinance confers upon any person power to do or enforce the doing of any act or thing, all such powers shall be deemed to be also conferred as are reasonably necessary to enable the person to do or enforce the doing of the act or thing”. As such, DFEH may, in requiring the person concerned to submit the information required under section 27 of the Ordinance, stipulate a reasonable time limit, which may be as short as 24 hours where necessary, having regard to different urgencies of individual cases. Thus, DFEH is currently vested with sufficient power to require food importers or food distributors to provide transaction records within a reasonable time limit. Those who fail to submit the information to DFEH within the specified time commit an offence and are liable to a maximum fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for three months.
In response to the substandard lard incident in Taiwan, CFS has organised three dedicated briefing sessions. In those sessions, CFS reminded the food trade to arrange their transaction records systematically to ensure that the relevant information may be submitted within the timeframe specified by DFEH as necessary. CFS also reminded the trade that depending on the urgency of the matter, DEFH may require food traders to submit the records and information within a minimum of 24 hours. In addition, CFS has liaised with the trade on enhancing the communication mechanism by requiring food importers and distributors to provide information of at least one contact person, and 24-hour contact telephone number and a mobile phone number for getting in touch with the contact person(s) during office / non-office hours in case of emergency food incidents. This will enable CFS to make immediate contact with the relevant traders when necessary to obtain the required information, in order to safeguard food safety.
As such, the current food tracing mechanism established under the Ordinance has already enabled CFS to trace the source and distribution of food products effectively, to assess the scale of food incidents and the movement of the food products in question accurately, as well as to trace, mark and seal the food products which may be affected, so as to prevent further sale of problem food products which may pose risk to public health. Therefore, we consider that the suggestion of requiring food traders to make public their records on the acquisition and supply of food, raw materials or ingredients will have little effect on further enhancing food safety.
As for the suggestion of establishing an electronic database on food safety, the Government, the trade and consumers can effectively obtain information on food traders at present through the Ordinance. Sections 4 and 5 of the Ordinance require any food importer / distributor to register with DFEH as food importer / food distributor. Those who fail to do so commit an offence and are liable to a maximum fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months. Under section 15 of the Ordinance, for the purpose of enabling members of the public to ascertain whether a person is registered under the Ordinance as a food importer / distributor, DFEH must make the register of registered food importers and registered food distributors available for public inspection. To facilitate the trade and consumers to acquire information on the traders concerned, the register has been uploaded to a dedicated webpage set up by CFS for the Ordinance (www.foodsafetyord.gov.hk). It is also available for inspection at two offices managed by CFS.
(2) and (3) Regarding the application of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, various government departments have adopted the technology in providing services, for example the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, FEHD, the Department of Health, the Housing Department, the Immigration Department, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, the Hongkong Post and the Transport Department.
On the application of RFID technology in source traceability of agricultural products, FEHD and the Guangdong Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau has since 2006 launched a trial programme on identification of live pigs supplied to Hong Kong from Guangdong by means of electronic ear tags with RFID functions, with a view to strengthening the tracking of Mainland live pigs supplied to Hong Kong from source to slaughtering. After discussion, the two sides subsequently decided to explore the feasibility of extending the application of RFID technology to the tracking of live cattle supplied to Hong Kong from Guangdong and the pilot programme was launched in April 2013. The two sides will sum up the experience and then decide on the way forward for the application of RFID technology on live cattle and live pigs supplied to Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong R&D Centre for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies (LSCM) established by the Innovation and Technology Commission is responsible for driving and co-ordinating applied research and development efforts and promoting commercialisation in the scope of the logistics and supply chain management enabling technology areas, including RFID technology. LSCM has assisted local and the Mainland trades (including the food trade) to use RFID technology for enhancing their competitiveness. Food traders who are interested in applying RFID technology in food testing and maintenance of transaction records may contact LSCM. LSCM will provide tailor-made research and consultative services to meet their needs.
Ends/Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Issued at HKT 16:32