I. The Regulation
|Q1||When will the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation become effective?|
The Administration has made the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap. 132CM, "the Regulation"). The Legislative Council completed scrutiny of the Regulation in June 2012 and the Regulation has come into operation since 1 August 2014.
|Q2||How is the list of maximum residue limits (MRLs) and extraneous maximum residue limits (EMRLs) formulated for the Regulation?|
The Regulation specifies in Schedule 1 a list of MRLs/EMRLs for certain pesticide-food pairs, i.e. the maximum concentration of specified pesticide residues permitted in specified food commodities. The levels of pesticide residues present in food are not permitted to exceed the MRLs/EMRLs specified in Schedule 1. The formulation of Schedule 1 to the Regulation was based primarily on the available standards recommended by Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), supplemented by the available standards of the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong (including the United States and Thailand), taking into account comments received from stakeholders during public consultation. These standards had been scrutinised by conducting risk assessment to ensure that they are adequate to protect public health in Hong Kong. Taking into account the heavy reliance of Hong Kong on imported food, such an approach has struck a balance between protecting public health and maintaining stable supply of food in Hong Kong.
|Q3||Will the lists of MRLs/EMRLs and the exempted pesticides be updated?|
As new pesticides and new applications on crops keep emerging, we will monitor closely the latest international development and update the lists of pesticide residue limits and exempted pesticides specified in the Regulation, as necessary and appropriate.
|Q4||Considering the uniqueness of the local dietary practice and ecology as compared with overseas countries, the standards recommended by Codex or used in other countries may not be fully applicable to Hong Kong. Has the Government developed standards applicable to local situations?|
When adopting the relevant pesticide residue limits (MRLs/EMRLs) of Codex, the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong (including the United States and Thailand), the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) conducted risk assessment based on local food consumption pattern to scrutinise these standards in order to ensure that they are applicable to the local situation and are adequate to protect public health in Hong Kong. Taking into account the heavy reliance of Hong Kong on imported food, such an approach has struck a balance between protecting public health and maintaining stable supply of food in Hong Kong.
|Q5||Will it be an offence under the Regulation if pesticide residues are detected in food at levels exceeding the prescribed MRLs/EMRLs?|
It will be an offence under the Regulation if the laboratory test result shows that the level of pesticide residues in the food exceeds the prescribed pesticide residue limits.
|Q6||Will it be an offence under the Regulation if pesticide residues are detected in food with no specified MRLs/EMRLs?|
For pesticide residues with no specified MRLs/EMRLs in Schedule 1, the Regulation stipulates that except for exempted pesticides, import or sale of food containing such pesticide residues is allowed if the consumption of the food concerned is not dangerous or prejudicial to health based on risk assessment conducted by CFS.
The list of MRLs/EMRLs laid down in Schedule 1 to the Regulation was formulated based primarily on the available standards recommended by Codex, supplemented by the available standards of the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong (the United States and Thailand), taking into account comments received from stakeholders during the public consultation. As such, the list should have covered most of the existing pesticide residue limits relevant to our major food supplying places.
|Q7||How does CFS conduct risk assessment when there is no MRL/EMRL specified for the pesticide-food pair?|
Risk assessment is a science-based method which has been well-recognised in the international arena. The acceptability of the potential risks upon consumption of a food sample containing pesticide residues is judged on the basis of comparison of safety reference values (e.g., acceptable daily intakes (ADI) for long-term exposure, or acute reference dose (ARfD) for short-term exposure), with dietary exposure estimates as determined by appropriate exposure studies, i.e. on the outcome of risk assessment process. CFS conducts risk assessment on the detected level of pesticide residues in a food sample based on local food consumption pattern and the available safety reference values.
The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) is responsible for evaluating the toxicological and related data of the pesticide and estimating the safety reference values, including ADI and ARfD for humans. Besides JMPR, regulatory agencies worldwide may also conduct toxicological evaluation and establish safety reference values during pesticide registration.
|Q8||CFS will conduct risk assessment when pesticide residues with no specified MRLs/EMRLs in Schedule 1 to the Regulation are detected in food. How long will it take to have the assessment result?|
CFS will take into account a host of factors including safety reference values and local situation when conducting the risk assessment. The time required for risk assessment will depend on the unique situation of each case.
|Q9||What is the definition of "food" in the Regulation? Are processed food products, alcoholic beverages, meat, seafood and food ingredients, health foods, Chinese herbs (e.g. ginseng), etc., covered by the Regulation?|
The definition of "food" in the Regulation will be the same as that adopted in the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132). "Food" ( 食物 ) includes -
As such, the definition of "food" under the Regulation covers processed food products as well as alcoholic beverages, meat, seafood and food ingredients.
|Q10||Some of the common food items among Chinese people (e.g. hairy gourd) may not be covered by the Codex food classification system. Will these food items be regulated under the Regulation?|
Under the Regulation, all substances which fall within the definition of "food" will be regulated. CFS has prepared the "Guidelines on Food Classification for the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap. 132CM)" to facilitate the trade in identifying the appropriate pesticide residue limits that are relevant to the food commodities concerned. CFS has also compared the foods commonly found in Hong Kong against the Codex food classification system and incorporated in the guidelines as many food items of special local interest but not found in the Codex list as practicable. For food items of special local interest but with no available MRLs (e.g. lotus seed), risk assessment is considered the appropriate approach to determine if there would be any associated food safety risks when pesticide residues are detected.
|Q11||Is the description of food "Tea, Green, Black" mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Regulation referring tea infusion / beverage, or tea leaves?|
According to the Codex food classification system, "Tea, Green, Black" refers to tea leaves, not tea infusion or tea beverage. In other words, MRLs/EMRLs established for "Tea, Green, Black" would only be directly applicable to tea leaves.
|Q12||What are the units for expressing MRL/EMRL? Are they applicable to the whole food commodity of concern, or just the edible portion?|
MRL/EMRL is usually expressed as "mg per kg of food". We has adopted the recommendations of Codex as the basis to decide whether an MRL/EMRL is applicable to the edible portion or the whole food commodity, as well as whether the MRL/EMRL is applicable to the fat portion or the whole food commodity in the case of food products of animal origin.
|Q13||Have pesticide residue limits for processed food or compounded food (e.g. fruit pulp, concentrated fruit juice, French fries, curry powder and barbecue sauce) been specified clearly in the Regulation? For processed food or compounded food with no readily available MRLs/EMRLs, how should the trade calculate the MRLs/EMRLs applicable to them?|
In general, Codex's MRLs and EMRLs are established for primary food commodities (both plants and animals). Codex has also established MRLs and EMRLs for certain processed foods (e.g. raisins) on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the effect of processing on the pesticide residues concerned. For processed food or compounded food with no readily available MRLs/EMRLs, the detailed calculation method and relevant examples in determining applicable MRLs/EMRLs can be found in Chapter 2 of the "Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap. 132CM) - User Guidelines".
II. Dovetailing with the Pesticides Ordinance
|Q14||Is the definition for "pesticide" in the Regulation the same as that in other local laws (such as the Pesticides Ordinance)?|
The Pesticides Ordinance regulates all types of pesticides in Hong Kong, including pesticides for general household purposes (such as naphthalene and mosquito coil) as well as agricultural pesticides. The Regulation aims at ensuring food safety. It focuses on regulating the amount of residues of agricultural pesticides in food, with emphasis on the use of pesticides during the production, storage, transport, distribution and processing of food. As the purposes and scope of the regulation are different, the definition of "pesticide" in the Regulation is therefore different from the one laid down in the Pesticides Ordinance.
The adoption of the definition of "pesticide" from Codex in the Regulation will promote harmonisation between local and international standards. This will enable our trading partners to have a better understanding of the scope of our regulatory requirements and facilitate the setting of appropriate MRLs/EMRLs for relevant pesticides under the Regulation.
III. Enforcement Issues
|Q15||At what levels will CFS collect food samples for conducting surveillance for the Regulation?|
|A15||Through the Food Surveillance Programme, CFS takes food samples at import, wholesale and retail levels for microbiological testing and chemical analysis to ensure that food for sale is fit for human consumption. This also covers the scope of the Regulation.|
|Q16||Will the food trade be prosecuted if the food has been unintentionally contaminated with pesticide residues (for example during storage in warehouse or by pesticides applied in a farm nearby)?|
Under section 54 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), food for sale in Hong Kong, whether it is imported or locally produced, must be fit for human consumption. Food manufacturers should ensure that their products will not be contaminated by pesticides during the manufacturing process.
|Q17||Is it necessary for members of the public who grow crops for their own consumption to ensure that the use of pesticides in such crops and their residue limits comply with the requirements of the Regulation?|
The legal requirement is that food for sale in Hong Kong is fit for human consumption. If members of the public grow crops for their own consumption and do not sell the food, they are not subject to control under the Regulation. However, to safeguard personal health, members of the public should observe good agricultural practices and follow the instructions on the package of the pesticides (including the pre-harvest interval) which they use when growing crops at home.
|Q18||If the pesticide residues in the food sold in a restaurant are found to have breached the law, who shall be held liable?|
If CFS has sufficient evidence to prove that the pesticide residues in the food sold in a restaurant breaches the law, the persons concerned including the licensee of the restaurant or the food processing plant, the food supplier, etc. but not the pesticide supplier, will be prosecuted.
IV. Impact on the Trade
|Q19||How would the Government assist the trade in complying with the Regulation?|
The list of MRLs/EMRLs laid down Schedule 1 to the Regulation was formulated based primarily on the available standards recommended by Codex, supplemented by available standards of the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong, while taking into consideration comments received from stakeholders during the public consultation. As such, the trade should be generally familiar with the requirements.
|Q20||Will there be any transitional arrangements for food products (especially for those processed foods with relatively long shelf-lives) that are manufactured before the commencement of the Regulation but imported to Hong Kong after the implementation date?|
CFS has provided briefings, training and guidelines for different sectors to familiarise them with the Regulation prior to the commencement of the Regulation. Moreover, there was a two-year grace period so as to allow sufficient time for the trade to comply with the Regulation. The trade should also choose reputable food suppliers who can provide documentary proof on compliance with the Regulation. We therefore consider that it is not necessary to have transitional arrangements for certain food products.
|Q21||Is there any provision for defence applicable to the Regulation?|
Section 70 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) stipulates contravention due to some other person and section 71 of Cap. 132 stipulates conditions under which warranty may be pleaded by the defendant as defence. These two sections of Cap. 132 would also be applicable to the offences under the Regulation. Provided that the conditions stipulated in these sections have been proved, the defendant may apply them as defences.
|Q22||Under the Regulation, under what circumstances will importers/wholesalers be prosecuted? What should importers/wholesalers do to comply with the Regulation?|
Under the Regulation, the importer(s)/wholesaler(s) of the food concerned may be prosecuted if the detected level of pesticide residues is found to exceed the specified MRL/EMRL. If a pesticide residue with no specified MRL/EMRL is detected, unless the pesticide is an exempted pesticide, import or sale of the food concerned will only be allowed if the consumption of the food is not dangerous or prejudicial to health. Otherwise, the importer(s)/wholesaler(s) of the food concerned may be prosecuted.
|Q23||How can retailers / vegetable traders ensure that the food they sell complies with the requirements of the Regulation?|
Retailers and vegetable traders should seek clarification from their suppliers to make sure that the food sold complies with the requirements of the local legislation, and keep the transaction documents for record.
Section 70 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) stipulates contravention due to some other person and section 71 of Cap. 132 stipulates conditions under which warranty may be pleaded by the defendant as defence. These two sections of Cap. 132 would also be applicable to the offences under the Regulation. Provided that the conditions stipulated in these sections have been proved, the retailers and vegetable traders may apply them as defences.
|Q24||What shall farmers do to ensure compliance with the Regulation?|
Local farmers should only use pesticides that have been registered in Hong Kong and in accordance with good agricultural practices, including the observation of label instructions and the pre-harvest interval. Please refer to AFCD website for more information:
V. Testing and Analysis
|Q25||Does the Government expect the trade to test all food for all pesticide residues included in the Regulation in order to demonstrate their compliance with the regulatory requirements?|
The Government recommends the trade to adopt the control-at-source approach for ensuring food safety. Food traders should understand the origin of the food for sale and the use of pesticide on these food products, choose reputable food suppliers who can provide the necessary documentary evidence, conduct relevant laboratory testing according to their needs, and keep the relevant records. The Regulation covers some 360 pesticides whose residue levels have undergone risk assessment and are considered acceptable to be present in food. Since normally a limited number of pesticides would be applied to individual food crops, the number of residue limits applicable to individual food would be much smaller than the total number of pesticides covered by the Regulation.
|Q26||Will the Government provide recommended testing methods for all the pesticides included in the Regulation?|
The Government has conducted several workshops on pesticide residues testing to discuss the reference testing methods of the major national authorities and international organisations, other reference methods or technical criteria, as well as the related equipment and standard reference materials. The relevant information has already been uploaded onto the website of CFS.
|Q27||Will the Government specify a limit of detection (LOD) for pesticide-food pairs for which no MRL/EMRL has been specified in the Regulation such that any detectable level of pesticide residues under the LOD would be considered not contravening the Regulation?|
Where pesticide residues outside the list are found, unless the pesticide is an exempted pesticide, import or sale of the concerned food will only be allowed if the consumption of the food concerned is not dangerous or prejudicial to health based on risk assessment conducted by CFS. As the Regulation has adopted the risk assessment approach, it is considered not necessary to specify a LOD.
|Q28||How many laboratories are there in Hong Kong which can provide testing services for pesticide residues in food at present? Are these laboratories capable of providing testing services for all pesticide residues on the list? Will the Government provide any support to the private laboratories in Hong Kong to enhance their capability in testing pesticide residues?|
We understand that there are currently a few private laboratories providing testing services for pesticide residues in food in Hong Kong, and at least four of them have been accredited under the voluntary accreditation scheme operated by Hong Kong Accreditation Service to provide such services. Since 2008, the Government Laboratory has outsourced the tests for pesticide residues in food to private laboratories. As such, private laboratories have gained considerable experience in conducting tests for pesticide residues in food.
|Q29||Is it appropriate if I only test the edible portion (e.g. orange pulp) of a food sample?|
The Government Laboratory would take reference from the Codex's recommendation on "Portion of Commodities to which Codex Maximum Residue Limits Apply and Which is Analysed" (Ref: Codex Alimentarius Vol. 2, Section 2.1). Codex MRLs are in most cases stated in terms of a specific whole raw agricultural commodity as it moves in international trade. For citrus fruits, the whole fruit will be analysed as the fruit is fully exposed to pesticides during the growing season and the entire fruit (not only the fruit pulp) may be consumed.
|Q30||Does the Government have any plan to enhance the public's understanding about pesticide residues in food?|
The Government has provided education materials via various channels, including the website of CFS, the 24-hour telephone hotline (2868 0000) and other channels (such as the quarterly publication, namely, the Food Safety Bulletin), as well as organised health talks and roving exhibitions to enhance public understanding about the rationale of the use of pesticides in agricultural practices, ways to minimise the health risks due to pesticide residues in food, and the importance of maintaining a balanced diet so as to avoid excessive exposure to specific hazards including chemical ones. Good hygiene practices should be observed and fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly cleansed before consumption. We will continue food safety promotion work in these areas.