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Frequently Asked Questions

I. The Regulation

Q1
When will the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation become effective?
A1

The Administration has made the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation (Cap. 132CM, “the Regulation”). The Legislative Council has completed its vetting of the Regulation. The Regulation will come into operation on 1 August 2014 after a two-year grace period.

 
Q2
How is the list of maximum residue limits (MRLs) and extraneous maximum residue limits (EMRLs) formulated for the Regulation?
A2

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 presence of any of these pesticide residues in food at levels exceeding the MRLs/EMRLs will be an offence under the Regulation. The list of MRLs/EMRLs has been formulated primarily based on available standards recommended by Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), supplemented by standards of the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong (including the United States and Thailand), taking into account comments received during public consultation. These standards have been further scrutinised by conducting risk assessment to ensure that the proposed standards 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 striked 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?
A3

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?

A4

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), CFS has conducted risk assessment based on local food consumption pattern to further 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 striked 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?

A5

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?

A6

With regard to pesticide-food pairs for which no MRL/EMRL has been specified in the Regulation, the general principle is that except for exempted pesticides, import and sale of the concerned food will only be allowed if the consumption of the food concerned is not dangerous or prejudicial to health. In deciding whether the consumption of the food concerned is dangerous or prejudicial to health, DFEH will conduct risk assessment.

Risk assessment is a science-based method which has been well-recognised in the international arena. The adoption of risk assessment approach will also make our Regulation more flexible and practical.

The list of MRLs/EMRLs has been formulated primarily based on available standards recommended by Codex, supplemented by related standards of the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong (the United States and Thailand ), taking into account comments received 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. Under normal circumstances, the chance of detecting pesticides not included in the list would be relatively small.

 
Q7

DFEH will conduct risk assessment when pesticide residues with no specified MRL/EMRL in the Regulation are detected in food. How long will it take to have the assessment result?

A7

DFEH 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.

 
Q8
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?
A8

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 -
(a) drink;
(b) ice;
(c) chewing gum and other products of a similar nature and use;
(d) smokeless tobacco products; and
(e) articles and substances used as ingredients in the preparation of food,

but does not include-
(f) live animals or live birds, other than live aquatic products;
(g) fodder or feeding stuffs for animals, birds, or aquatic products; or
(h) medicine as defined by section 2(1) of the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap 138) or Chinese herbal medicine or proprietary Chinese medicine as defined by section 2(1) of the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap 549).

As such, the definition of “food” under the Regulation covers processed food products as well as alcoholic beverages, meat, seafood and food ingredients as mentioned during the consultation exercise.

As for the so-called “health food” products, there is neither internationally accepted definition nor legal definition. They are regulated under relevant ordinances in Hong Kong in accordance with their ingredients. Products containing medicines or claimed to have medicinal effects are required to be registered as pharmaceutical products under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138). Products falling under the definition of proprietary Chinese of the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549) will be governed by that Ordinance. Those that cannot be classified as either of the above are regulated as general food products and are subject to the regulation of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132). As far as ginseng is concerned, dried or processed ginseng is regulated under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance while fresh ginseng is considered “food” and is subject to the regulation of Cap. 132 and its subsidiary regulations, including the Regulation.

 
Q9
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?
A9

Under the Regulation, all substances which fall within the definition of “food” will be regulated. CFS will compare the foods commonly found in Hong Kong against the Codex food classification system and ensure that the classification scheme is of local relevance. CFS will provide guidelines to facilitate the trade in identifying the appropriate pesticide residue limits that are relevant to the food commodities concerned.

 
Q10
What are the units for expressing MRL/EMRL? Are they applicable to the whole food commodity of concern, or just the edible portion?
A10

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.

 
Q11
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?
A11

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 calculating applicable MRLs/EMRLs have been introduced at the Fifth Technical Meeting held on 6 September 2011. See powerpoint slides on page 10 to 13 at the following link:

http://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/whatsnew/whatsnew_fstr/files/
5th_Technical_Meeting_Highlights_05092011_e.pdf

 

II. Dovetailing with the Pesticides Ordinance

 
Q12
Is the definition for “ pesticide” in the Regulation the same as that in other local laws (such as the Pesticides Ordinance)?
A12

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 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

 
Q13
At what levels will CFS collect food samples for conducting surveillance for the Regulation?
A13

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 will cover the scope of the Regulation.

 
Q14

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)?

A14

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.

Section 70 of Cap. 132 provides that if the defendant could prove that the contravention was due to the act or default of some other person, and that he has exercised all due diligence to secure that the provisions in question were complied with, he may plead this as a defence. This defence is applicable to offences under the Regulation. In addition, section 71 of Cap. 132 stipulates conditions under which warranty may be pleaded by the defendant as defence in any proceedings for an offence under the relevant part of the Ordinance. This would also be applicable to the offences under the Regulation.

 
Q15

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?

A15

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.

 
Q16

If the pesticide residues in the food sold in a restaurant are found to have breached the law, who shall be held liable?

A16

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

 
Q17
How would the Government assist the trade in complying with the Regulation?
A17

The list of MRLs/EMRLs has been formulated based on the relevant standards of Codex, the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong , taking into account comments received during the public consultation. As such, the trade should be generally familiar with the requirements.

We have conducted 24 briefings and consultation sessions from January 2011 to March 2012 to gauge views of stakeholders on the proposed regulatory framework. To allow sufficient time for the trade to comply with the Regulation, there is a two-year grace period prior to the commencement of the Regulation. During this period, CFS will provide briefings, training and guidelines for different sectors to familiarise them with the Regulation.

 
Q18
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?
A18

CFS will provide briefings, training and guidelines for different sectors to familiarise them with the Regulation prior to the commencement of the Regulation. Moreover, there is 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.

After the commencement of the Regulation, all food, regardless of whether it is imported, its manufacture date and shelf-life, will be subject to the same regulatory control.

 
Q19
Is there any provision for defence applicable to the Regulation?
A19

Section 71 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) stipulates conditions under which warranty may be pleaded by the defendant as defence in any proceedings for an offence under the relevant part of the Ordinance. This would also be applicable to the offences under the Regulation. For example, a vendor charged under the Regulation may produce evidence such as invoices to demonstrate that the food concerned is in the original state as obtained from the supplier without any further treatment and the supplier’s earlier confirmation of safe food supply. Food traders are advised to keep transaction records properly in case they need to plead the above as defence.

In addition, section 70 of Cap. 132 provides that if the defendant could prove that the contravention was due to the act or default of some other person, and that he has exercised all due diligence to secure that the provisions in question were complied with, he may plead this as a defence. Again, this is applicable to offences under the Regulation.

 
Q20
Under the Regulation, under what circumstances will importers/wholesalers be prosecuted? What should importers/wholesalers do to comply with the Regulation?
A20

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 and 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.

Since the list of MRLs/EMRLs has been formulated based on the relevant standards of Codex, the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong (including the United States and Thailand) and has taken into account comments received during the public consultation, the majority of food on sale in Hong Kong should have complied with the requirements of the Regulation.

Importers/wholesalers are advised to familiarise themselves with the requirements of the Regulation and to deal with reputable food suppliers who can provide documentary proof on compliance with the Regulation. Importers/wholesalers should also seek clarification from their suppliers when importing food to make sure that the food imported complies with the local legislation (including the Regulation), and keep the relevant transaction documents for record. Where feasible, importers/wholesalers should obtain relevant documentary proof for the food concerned from the supplier to prove that the food complies with the legislation in Hong Kong.

If an importer/a wholesaler charged with an offence can prove that the contravention was due to the act or default of the supplier and that he has exercised all due diligence to secure that the provisions in question were complied with; and that at the time of committing the alleged offence, the food concerned was in the original state as obtained from the supplier, he may seek defence under sections 70 and 71 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132).

 
Q21

How can retailers / vegetable traders ensure that the food they sell complies with the requirements of the Regulation?

A21

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. Under sections 70 and 71 of Cap. 132, a retailer/vegetable trader who has been charged with an offence may plead warranty if he can prove that the contravention was due to the act or default of some other person and that he has exercised all due diligence to secure that the provisions in question were complied with; and that at the time of the committing the alleged offence, the food concerned was in the original state as obtained from the supplier.

 
Q22
What shall farmers do to ensure compliance with the Regulation?
A22

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:
http://www.afcd.gov.hk/english/agriculture/agr_useful/agr_useful_gap/agr_useful_gap.html.

 

V. Testing and Analysis

 
Q23
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?
A23

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.

 
Q24

Will the Government provide recommended testing methods for all the pesticides included in the Regulation?

A24

The Government has conducted workshops on pesticide residues testing in May and June 2011 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 can be found at the website:
http://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/whatsnew/whatsnew_fstr/whatsnew_fstr_21_Pesticide.html

Laboratories could develop testing methods based on the needs, actual requirements, equipment, resources available, and make reference to national or international technical criteria and reference testing method. The Government Laboratory will provide further information and discuss with the trade regarding testing as necessary.

 
Q25

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?

A25

With regard to pesticide residues or pesticide-food pairs without specified MRL/EMRL, the Regulation has adopted a modified “positive list approach”. Where pesticide residues outside the list are found, unless the pesticide is an exempted pesticide, import and sale of the concerned food will only be allowed if the consumption of the food concerned is not dangerous or prejudicial to health. To this end, DFEH will conduct risk assessment. As the Regulation has adopted the risk assessment approach, it is considered not necessary to specify a LOD.

The Government Laboratory will continue to provide technical assistance to private laboratories to familiarise them with the Regulation.

 
Q26
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?
A26

We understand that there are currently a few private laboratories providing testing services for pesticide residues in food in Hong Kong, and at least three 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.

The two-year grace period would allow sufficient time for operators of private laboratories to acquire the necessary facilities to enhance their testing capability. In the meantime, the Government Laboratory will continue to provide technical assistance to private laboratories.

As most vegetables are imported from the Mainland, the Government Laboratory will also contact laboratories in the Mainland, in particular those in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, to explore the possibility for them to provide testing services for food traders in Hong Kong.

With the above measures, we are confident that private laboratories would have sufficient capability to meet the demand for testing pesticide residues in food arising from the Regulation.

 

VI. Publicity and Consultation

 
Q27 Has the Government conducted any consultation activities?
A27

We have conducted 24 briefings and consultation sessions from January 2011 to March 2012. Participants included trade associations, food manufacturers, food importers, food distributors, retailers, Consulate Generals, local farmers, private laboratories, pesticide suppliers and food safety experts. The trade generally supported the implementation of a regulation on pesticide residues in food.

 
Q28
Does the Government have any plan to enhance the public’s understanding about pesticide residues in food?
A28

The Government has organised health talks and roving exhibitions to enhance public understanding about the rationale of the use of pesticides in agricultural practices and ways to minimize the negative impacts of pesticides. The public is also reminded to maintain a balanced diet and 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. Educational materials are also available from the website of CFS, the 24-hour telephone hotline (2868 0000) and other channels (such as the quarterly publication, namely, the Food Safety Bulletin). We will continue food safety promotion work in these areas.

   
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