Scares in the supermarket

With much of Hong Kong’s food imported from the mainland, let us find out the cause of food safety scandals and what can be done to stop them

FOOD safety problems in the mainland are hardly anything new. Businesses are regularly accused of ignoring safety standards for greater profits. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation pollutes the environment, and toxic pollutants enter the food chain, harming consumers’ health. Hong Kong, which relies heavily on the mainland for imported food, is inevitably affected by ‛black-hearted food’ – as it is also known. Junior Standard answers three big questions about this alarming issue.

What food safety problems is China facing?
Black-hearted food
Agriculture in the mainland is facing many problems. They include dwindling manpower and land. This has prompted farmers to use chemicals to boost yield. To yield greater profits, some unethical food merchants have resorted to using harmful ingredients to cut costs.

Food contamination
Factories are everywhere. They emit harmful pollutants, contaminating water bodies and land. The poisonous substances eventually find their way into agricultural products. Genetically modifying foods can increase yield, but its long-term effects on the human body are not yet fully known.

Rampant corruption
The mainland has laws on food safety, but there is a heavy ‘human element’ in their implementation. Collusion between officials and businessmen is not uncommon. With official ‘protection’, violators can also escape punishment.

How does Hong Kong conduct food inspections and gate-keeping?
Imported food
Hong Kong imports most of its food, as we do not have a robust agricultural industry. The mainland is our most important food source. Certain high-risk imported foods like milk, dairy products, frozen confections, game, meat and poultry are all subject to special controls. For example, importing game requires the prior permission of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. Importing meat and poultry is confined to sources recognised by the department.

Inspection and laws
Inspections are conducted at import,wholesale and retail levels. Testing reports are posted online as public information. Food laws prohibit and publish the import, export and sale of bad food. All import and distribution businesses have to be registered. All food importers are required to keep records so the source of imported food can be traced easily.

What can the authorities do to ensure food safety?
Increase deterrents: increase the penalties in the Food Safety Law, such as bigger fines and longer jail terms.

Strengthen the food inspection system: set up more food inspection centres and train more staff.

Public education: advise the public to buy trustworthy brands. Teach people how to spot problem food products. Educate farmers on avoiding drugs or animal feed from dubious sources.

Hong Kong
Proactively notify mainland authorities of problem foods.

Assist the mainland in setting up food inspection systems and train related personnel.

Create a blacklist of problem food sources and ban them from importing in the future.