Three samples of salmon sold in Hong Kong were found to contain residues of the veterinary drug chloramphenicol, an antibiotic whose widespread use in fish and other animals is believed responsible for the development of “superbugs” or drug-resistant bacteria.
One of the samples was found to have been imported from Norway, while the sources of the other two were still unknown, Oriental Daily reports.
Secretary for Food and Health Dr. Ko Wing-man said the Centre for Food Safety will try to determine the sources of the contaminated food items.
But Ko sought to allay fears about widespread contamination, noting that there was only one sample positive for chloramphenicol out of 1,300 samples examined over the past three years.
Sigmund Bjørgo, director of China and Hong Kong at the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC), said chloramphenicol is strictly prohibited in Norway as a drug for treating bacterial infection in seafood, which is why he thinks the contaminated sample was unlikely to have come from his country, Ming Pao Daily reported.
He also said salmon from Norway has never tested for excessive levels of cadmium, a highly toxic metal found in some seafood samples.
According to the NSC, Hong Kong imported 11.9 tons of salmon from Norway in 2016.
The owner of the shop where the contaminated sample was found said all of the shop’s salmon products are sourced from Norwegian fish farms duly accredited by local authorities.
The shop has asked its suppliers in Norway to present certified copies of relevant food safety examination reports to confirm the safety of the products.
Dr. Chan King-ming of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Life Sciences said chloramphenicol could be mixed with the fish feed or added to the water in fish tanks for the purpose of killing bacteria.
However, the widespread use of the drug could result in drug resistance among the fish, Chan said.
William Chui Chun-ming, chairman of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Hong Kong, said antibiotics could also lead to the development of “superbugs” or drug-resistant bacteria in humans, hk01.com reported.
Chui said such drug-resistant bacteria cannot be killed even if the food items are cooked thoroughly.
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