21 July 2019
Hong Kong government has launched a public consultation on proposed amendments to laws related to metallic contaminants in food. Photo: HKEJ
Hong Kong government has launched a public consultation on proposed amendments to laws related to metallic contaminants in food. Photo: HKEJ

Food laws related to metallic contaminants set for revision

Hong Kong’s Food Adulteration (Metallic Contamination) Regulations, which were put in place more than 30 years ago and haven’t been revised even once, are finally set to get a makeover.

The government announced Tuesday, ten years after former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen proposed a review in 2007, that it plans to enhance and update the laws that have been used to regulate the levels of metallic contaminants in food.

Rules will be revised as authorities seek to better protect public health, facilitate effective regulation and promote harmonization between local and international standards, it said.

A public consultation has begun on proposed amendments to the regulations, with the process to last for three months until September 5. 

The government has made reference to the international food safety standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, relevant standards of different jurisdictions, local food consumption patterns, and the risk assessment results of the Center for Food Safety (CFS), among other things, in formulating the proposals, according to a government spokesman.

Currently, seven metallic contaminants are covered in the regulations, namely mercury, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and tin. 

Under the proposed amendments, seven more will be added, including barium, boron, copper, manganese, nickel, selenium and uranium, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In addition, the government proposes to replace the existing food categories of “all food in solid/liquid form” with specific maximum levels (MLs) so as to align with the Codex principle and modern international regulatory trends.

As such, the total number of MLs of metallic contaminants will increase from 19 to 145, of which 90 are more stringent than the existing maximum permitted concentrations while six will see some relaxation.

For example, the maximum level of lead allowed in fruits and vegetables is expected to go down to as little as 0.05 mg per kilogram from the current 6mg, but that of cadmium in rice is proposed to go up to 0.2 mg per kilogram from 0.1mg, the same standard as that in China, South Korea, Singapore and European Union.

Jonathan Wong, director of the Hong Kong Organic Resource Center, feels tightening of the standards could cause local production of some vegetables or fruits to go down.

Some farmers, meanwhile, admitted that they are concerned because they have no idea how much lead is contained in their products.

Wong pointed out that long-term intake of metallic contaminants can definitely harm human bodies.

He reminded the public that they should clean the vegetables and soak them in water for at least 15 minutes before cooking them so that 40 percent of metallic contaminants can be eliminated.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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