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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 completed scrutiny of the Regulation in June 2012 and the Regulation comes into operation on 1 August 2014.

 
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 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?
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), 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?

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

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.

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 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?

A7

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?
A8

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?
A9

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 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 the nature of 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 definitions of Chinese herbal medicine or proprietary Chinese medicine in the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549) are governed by that Ordinance. For products fulfilling the definition of “food” as stipulated in the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), they are governed by the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) and its subsidiary legislation including the Regulation.

 
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?
A10

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 Resdiues 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?
A11

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?
A12

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?
A13

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)?
A14

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)?

A16

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 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 food trade may apply them as defences.

 
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?

A17

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?

A18

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?
A19

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.

To allow sufficient time for the trade to comply with the Regulation, there was a two-year grace period prior to the commencement of the Regulation. During this period, CFS has provided briefings, training and guidelines for different sectors to familiarise them with the Regulation.

 
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?
A20

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.

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.

 
Q21
Is there any provision for defence applicable to the Regulation?
A21

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 pleased 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?
A22

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.

Since 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 available standards of the Mainland and other major food exporting countries to Hong Kong (including the United States and Thailand), while taking into consideration comments received from stakeholders 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 a documentary proof for the food concerned from the supplier to prove that the food complies with the legislation in Hong Kong.

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 pleased 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 importer/ wholesaler may apply them as defences.

 
Q23

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

A23

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 pleased 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?
A24

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

 
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?
A25

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?

A26

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.

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.

 
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?

A27

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.

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

 
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?
A28

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.

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 would continue to provide technical assistance to private laboratories.

As most vegetables are imported from the Mainland, the Government Laboratory has also contacted relevant organizations in the Mainland to explore the possibility for them to provide testing services for food traders in Hong Kong. We understand that some laboratories in the Mainland can provide testing services for pesticide residues in food.

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.

 
Q29 Is it appropriate if I only test the edible portion (e.g. orange pulp) of a food sample?
A29

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.

In some instances, a qualification is included that describes the part of the raw agricultural commodity to which the MRL applies, for example, almonds on a shell-free basis and beans without pods. In other instances, such qualifications are not provided.

   
VI. Publicity
 
Q30
Does the Government have any plan to enhance the public’s understanding about pesticide residues in food?
A30

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.

   
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