Pregnant women and young children advised to avoid eating predatory fish

A spokesman for the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) today (September 4) reminded members of the public that large or predatory fish usually contain higher levels of mercury, a metal contaminant. Population sub-groups that are particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of mercury, for example pregnant women, women planning pregnancy and young children, should avoid eating such fish.

"The Centre received notification from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Commission that a kind of skin-on frozen swordfish, a predatory fish, exported from Vietnam was found to contain mercury at a level of 1.81 parts per million (ppm) by the Netherlands authorities. The affected product was reported to have been imported to Hong Kong late last month. Based on the information provided by the RASFF, the CFS has contacted the importer concerned and is investigating whether the affected batch of the product has been imported," the spokesman said.

The Food Adulteration (Metallic Contamination) Regulations (Cap. 132V) stipulates that the maximum permitted concentration of mercury in all food in solid form is 0.5 ppm. Any person who sells food with metallic contamination above the legal limit may be prosecuted and is liable upon conviction to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for six months.

"Upon usual consumption, the reported level of mercury in the swordfish sample exported from Vietnam is unlikely to pose adverse health effects for the general public," the spokesman said.

He said that fish contain many essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and high-quality proteins. Fish also provide the nutrients required for brain development of foetus and young children. Therefore, the public should maintain a balanced and varied diet. Moderate consumption of a variety of fish is also recommended.

Nevertheless, as the CFS has always advised, pregnant women, women planning pregnancy and young children should opt for fish that are smaller in size for consumption. To minimise the health risk posed to the foetus, infants and young children by excessive exposure to metal contaminants from food, they should avoid eating large-sized fish, predatory fish and other types of fish which may contain high levels of mercury (examples are tuna, alfonsino, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and king mackerel).

To ensure that the affected product will not enter the local market via other importers or distributors, the CFS will alert the trade about the incident and appeal to them to contact the CFS if they have the affected batch in stock or want more information on the incident.

From 2011 to 2013, a total of 13 samples of fish imported from Vietnam were taken by the CFS for testing of mercury, of which none except one swordfish sample were found to be unsatisfactory.

"In response to the incident, the CFS will also step up surveillance on swordfish imported from Vietnam," the spokesman said.

Ends/Thursday, September 4, 2014