Hong Kong authorities are facing criticism over their response to Brazil’s tainted-meat scandal, with critics accusing the government of not doing enough to halt sales of potentially unsafe imported products.
Questions have been raised as to why the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) did not order a recall of all Brazilian meat products from local shops or ban sales of existing stocks despite announcing a suspension of imports from the South American country.
Also, observers are wondering why it took the government four days to announce an import ban after the food safety issue was made public by Brazilian authorities last Friday.
Moreover, officials failed to provide timely information to the public on importers who may have had dealings with errant Brazilian meat processors, critics say.
After announcing an import halt the previous day, the FEHD on Wednesday disclosed that five out the more than 20 meat processors caught up in the Brazil scandal had sold products to Hong Kong buyers.
The information was given after authorities got in touch with the Brazilian consulate here, almost six days after the food scandal broke out, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Meanwhile, citizens were also anxious as the FEHD did not order any recalls or ban sales of the products already imported into Hong Kong.
Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man has said the import ban does not force all supermarkets to recall the products, given the lack of specific information as to which batch of imported products may be potentially contaminated.
Media reports, in the meantime, have suggested that a number of restaurants secured relevant information from their suppliers way earlier than the government.
Brazilian authorities are said to be probing 21 meat processors in the country following a corruption scandal involving factory inspectors that led to the sale of rotten products with fake certification.
Among the 21 problem factories, there were six which exported their products overseas.
Hong Kong importers have told CNBC that they only learnt about the ban from TV news reports, and that they were angry that the government authorities only notified restaurant chains.
Hong Kong is reported to be the second biggest importer of Brazilian meat, second only to China.
While most countries will be able to sustain their meat supply by turning to their own local production, Hong Kong will be hit hard as it solely relies on imports.
On Tuesday, Japan, Sweden, Mexico, and Canada joined a growing list of countries banning meat imports from Brazil. The UK and the US have yet to impose any bans, but have said they would step up food testing on imports.
The Brazilian government has stressed that carcinogenic meat was only an isolated incident, and that people should not doubt the hygiene and safety standards of the nation’s entire meat industry.
In the wake of the scandal and the Hong Kong’s response to it, lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan criticized food and health secretary Ko, accusing him of being too passive in dealing with the events.
Authorities should have banned sales of Brazilian meat at the retail level, she said.
Ho Kai-ming, a member of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene, said he is disappointed that the government took so long to announce the list of importers.
Fellow legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan, who represents the catering industry functional constituency, however offered support to the government, saying authorities took the right decision.
Chueng said he has communicated with the Brazilian consulate and learnt that that only three slaughterhouses out of the more than 5,000 such facilities in Brazil were identified as problematic.
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