A year after the detection of a carcinogen in hairy crabs from Jiangsu, Chinese authorities are yet to announce guidelines on export of the food item, a situation that could mean Hong Kong diners may miss out on the popular delicacy in the coming season that starts in October.
Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) found excessive dioxin levels in two of five hairy crab samples from two mainland farms it tested last year.
Following the discovery, the two farms — Wanqing Taihu Crab Breeding Co. and Jiangsu Taihu Fishery Ltd. — are still banned from exporting crabs to Hong Kong.
According to an Apple Daily report, Chinese authorities may adopt a set of testing standards for dioxin that are stricter than the ones in Hong Kong, in upcoming export regulations.
The allowed levels of contaminant per gram in China’s exports will be set at 4.5 picograms, whereas the prevailing standard in Hong Kong is 6.5 picograms.
As the new rules and standards are yet to be in place, exports to Hong Kong will be affected this year, the report suggests.
Ki Yuk-fung, director of Old San Yang stores, an old-school Shanghainese grocery shop chain in Hong Kong, laid the blame on Hong Kong authorities, suggesting that they had been overzealous.
If Hong Kong continues to focus on testing for dioxins, locals face the prospect of no longer having the opportunity to consume hairy crabs from Lake Tai or Yangcheng Lake from Jiangsu province, Ki said.
“[The affected farms] are going to give up on the Hong Kong market,” she told Apple Daily. “If we want to eat Jiangsu hairy crabs in future, we may have to go to Shenzhen.”
Old San Yang will try to get hairy crabs from other farms within the Jiangsu region and will also import from other possible sources, Ki said, without going into detail.
According to her, two rounds of safety tests will be carried out in China before a batch is exported to Hong Kong. As each test will cost more than 10,000 yuan, prices of the crabs this year are likely to go up by at least 30 percent, she said.
Chan Kam-fai from Wing Fu Yangcheng Lake crab store said import of crabs was done in a rather fuzzy way in previous years, with Hong Kong importers relying heavily on Chinese merchants to do all the customs declarations and testing.
Now it seems the importers will no longer rely on the two companies they had been using over the years, but instead directly contact the farms to ensure better transparency.
Chan added that Inspection and Quarantine Bureau of China has also become strict on exports this year and that the agency is yet to release guidelines on shipments this year.
He believes Hong Kong people may have to wait until the Mid-Autumn festival in October before they can have the first batch of crabs.
Chan’s store no longer imports Tai Lake hairy crabs. It has considered importing the food items from Anhui in smaller numbers to avoid making losses.
Talking about the overall industry, Chan worries there will be a lot of hairy crabs of unknown origin coming into Hong Kong in the future to meet the needs of the market.
While there would be supplies, there is no guarantee of the safety of the items, he said.
The CFS, meanwhile, has said that it will keep testing hairy crab samples.
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