Food Safety Focus (67th Issue, February 2012) – Food Incident Highlight
Assessing the Risk of Pesticide Residues in Vegetables
The safety of our vegetables has aroused some concern recently after the release of a survey on pesticide residues by a green group in mid-January. According to the survey, several out of the 24 vegetable samples collected from supermarkets in Hong Kong were found to contain various levels of pesticide residues. Are they safe for consumption? To answer the question, we conducted a risk assessment by comparing the reported figures in the survey against the safety reference values. We found that consumption of vegetables with the reported levels of pesticide residues was unlikely to result in adverse effects. In addition, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has taken follow up samples and all results are satisfactory.
Pesticides are used for pest management to increase crop yield. The use of pesticide will inevitably leave some residues on the crops. To determine whether public health is at risk, one should conduct the assessment based on the levels of pesticide residues detected, rather than their mere presence.
The CFS has established mechanisms to monitor and control vegetables on sale in Hong Kong . These include conducting farm audits in the Mainland, taking samples and inspecting relevant documents, such as export certificate of fresh vegetables supplied to Hong Kong and Macau , at the Man Kam To Food Control Office. A surveillance programme for pesticide residues has been put in place since 1990s. Among 21,700 vegetable and fruit samples taken in 2011, two samples imported from the Mainland were found unsatisfactory. The CFS has contacted the Mainland authority for follow-up actions and an implicated farm has been delisted from the list of registered farms eligible for export to Hong Kong.
The Government proposed a regulatory framework on pesticide residues in food aiming for effective control and harmonising local and international standards. The proposed Regulation shall be submitted to the Legislative Council within the current legislative session. In addition, the Food Safety Ordinance, which comes into force this month, also enhances the control as it introduces a food tracing mechanism requiring registration of food importers/distributors and record-keeping related to movement of food.