Hong Kong authorities have found a possible cancer-causing substance in freshwater fish imports, renewing fears yesterday about the hygiene of food from China which has been the source of several health scares in the territory.
China quickly sought to assure Hong Kong's public by agreeing to certify Hong Kong-bound freshwater fish as free of the substance malachite green, used by fish farmers to treat parasites and fungal infections in fish, the territory's health secretary York Chow said yesterday.
The Chinese government also agreed to discuss better inspection measures with Hong Kong officials in Beijing yesterday.
Hong Kong's Health, Welfare and Food Bureau said late Sunday that officials found malachite green in seven imported freshwater fish samples.
Chow said Sunday that some of the samples were from Chinese imports, which account for up to 80 percent of Hong Kong's fish imports.
Li Gang, deputy director at China's liaison office in Hong Kong, told Hong Kongers not to worry, promising his office would follow up with relevant Chinese authorities.
"For the past few days, I've been eating fish every day at lunch, as well as meat," Li said.
China yesterday cut its live fish exports to Hong Kong to about 20 tonnes, 60 percent less than usual, Hong Kong's Cable TV reported. Few wholesalers offered freshwater fish yesterday morning, it said.
Earlier, Hong Kong authorities also found malachite green in 55 eel samples, and Chow warned the public against eating eel from China.
Residents in Hong Kong are often worried about poor food hygiene in less developed China, a major source of food supplies for the territory.
Hong Kong's public also fears late notification of Chinese diseases after the 2003 outbreak of SARS, which spread here from China, eventually killing 299 locals.
A recent outbreak linked to the pig-borne disease streptococcus suis in China killed 39 people in its western province of Sichuan, raising anxieties in Hong Kong about swine imports.
Hong Kong sends officials to inspect China's meat exports to the territory, but no such arrangement for fish exists because it's considered a low-risk food, Chow said.
The recent food scare led the Apple Daily newspaper to question in a front-page headline yesterday, "What should Hong Kong people eat?"