Hong Kong authorities announced Tuesday a ban on imports of Brazilian meat and poultry products following a food safety scandal in the South American country.
In a statement, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it has temporarily suspended import of frozen and chilled meat and poultry meat from Brazil.
The move, which takes effect immediately, is a precautionary measure to safeguard food safety and public health as the quality of meat exported from Brazil has come into question, the agency said.
The announcement came after Brazil said last Friday that a two-year investigation has uncovered corruption among the nation’s health inspectors and that some meat processors were suspected to have sold rotten products with fake certification.
A CFS spokesman said the center has contacted Brazilian authorities soon after hearing the news.
As the probe in Brazil is ongoing, the CFS will continue to liaise with the relevant Brazilian authorities to obtain detailed information for further assessment, the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, measures are being put in place for tighter surveillance on imports and to ensure that products of doubtful quality do not reach consumers here.
The CFS claimed that there is no evidence at the moment to suggest that tainted meat has entered Hong Kong.
Police in Brazil, the world’s biggest exporter of beef and poultry, said on March 17 that more than 30 meat processors in the country were suspected to have bribed health inspectors into certifying tainted products.
The products were either rotten or suspected of containing cancer-causing ingredients.
The scandal shocked many importing regions, including Hong Kong, which has been a big importer of Brazilian beef and poultry products.
Frozen and boneless type meat products from Brazil are said to account for more than 50 percent of Hong Kong’s total such imports.
China, Brazil’s biggest export market for beef and poultry, and the European Union have curtailed meat imports from Brazil since Monday.
Meanwhile, all supermarket chains in Hong Kong said they will remove the banned meat products from shop shelves and allow customers who have such stocks to exchange them for other products or get refunds.
Some restaurants, including Fairwood Fast Food and Maxims, have also stopped using Brazilian meat.
Legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan asked Secretary for Food and Health Dr. Ko Wing-man to respond properly to the incident and provide the public with all relevant information.
The department should make public the names of affected meat types and the Brazilian companies involved, she said.
Cheng Hing, former secretary general of Hong Kong Frozen Meat Sea Food Wholesalers Retailers Association, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that as many as 40 containers of frozen meat, involving total weight of 3.8 metric tons, are believed to be on the way to Hong Kong from Brazil.
Now, following the ban, importers face huge potential losses, he said.
Calling the ban unprecedented, Cheng said the decision was taken in haste without discussions with the sector.
A lot of the meat imported from Brazil is re-exported to other places, rather than getting consumed in Hong Kong, according to the industry official.
In other comments, he warned that prices of meat from other countries may rise as a result of the ban on Brazilian products.
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