Generally speaking, pesticides are substances used to kill or control unwanted insects, plants, fungi, rodents or other pests. Insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides and fungicides are some commonly used pesticides. The term also includes substances intended for use as a plant growth regulator, defoliant, desiccant, fruit thinning agent, or sprouting inhibitor and substances applied to crops either before or after harvest to protect the commodity from deterioration during storage and transport.
Use of Pesticides
The use of pesticides contributes significantly to the well being of the people. The production and quality of food are increased through the use of pesticides. The control of disease-carrying pests contributes to the better health of the people. On the other hand, use of pesticides has led to various problems. Some of the pesticides are persistent in the environment and may concentrate through the food chain - from plankton or insects to birds, fish, animals and eventually to human beings. Some of these pesticides were found to exhibit evidence of long-term adverse effects when taken in significant amount. Abuse of pesticides may result in acute food poisoning. The sporadic occurrence of food poisoning caused by consumption of vegetable tainted with pesticides is a typical example.
Locally, the Pesticide Ordinance, Cap. 133 administered by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) provides for the registration and control of pesticides. In accordance with the Ordinance, a list of registered pesticides approved for use in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is published in the Gazette every year. The list is also available from AFCD for reference.
Pesticide Residues in Food
The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) under the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is responsible for the overall food sale in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, be it imported or domestic. In April 2012, the Government 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.
The Regulation aims to strengthen the regulation of pesticide residues in food to protect public health and promote harmonization between local and international standards. The Regulation specifies in Schedule 1 a list of maximum residue limits (MRLs) and extraneous maximum residue limits (EMRLs) for certain pesticide-food pairs, i.e. the maximum concentration of specified pesticide residues permitted in specific food commodities. Schedule 2 to the Regulation specifies a list of exempted pesticides with no MRLs/EMRLs. These are pesticides that are natural and the residues of which are identical to or indistinguishable from natural food components.
The general principle of the Regulation is that except for exempted pesticides, import or sale of food containing pesticide residues with no specified MRLs/EMRLs in Schedule 1 is only allowed if the consumption of the food concerned is not dangerous or prejudicial to health. Based on risk assessment, CFS will decide whether the consumption of the food concerned is dangerous or prejudicial to health.
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.
Details of the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation can be browsed from the webpage of Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation.
For further information, please contact the Communication Resource Unit (Tel No.:2381 6096) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.