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June01, 2015

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74 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE TOP 100 IMPORTERS AND EXPORTERS 2015 JUNE 1.2015 By Greg Knowler IN JANUARY, 10 boxes of Japanese carrots imported into Hong Kong from Chiba pre- fecture in Japan through the Kwai Tsing container terminal found their way to mar- ket in the city, part of 15,000 tons of annual fruit and vegetable imports from Japan. By the time food safety officers realized Chiba was one of five prefec- tures from which the imports of fruit and vegetables have been banned since the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, one box of carrots had been sold and two others were on sale at a Kowloon market. "Import documents did not state that the consignment originated from the prefecture concerned. According to the information provided by the importer, the majority of the carrots were either rotten and dis- posed of or for personal consumption," a C entre for Food Safety spokesman said in a statement. Only two boxes made it to market, he said. "One of them was sold while the remaining box was marked and sealed by the CFS. Samples were taken for testing of radiation levels, and the results were satis- factory," the spokesman said. Although no radiation was found in the carrots, the recently announced inci- dent reveals a gaping loophole in the safety of products brought in by sea. Seaborne food imports don't go through routine checks at the port because the Food and Envi- ronmental Hygiene Department has no food inspection check- point at the container terminal. Food imported by air, however, is tested for radiation at the airport. Health officers inspect sea- borne food imports only when importers move it to storage areas, accord- ing to the department. This could allow some food importers to avoid inspection. Under the Import and Export Ordi- nance, importers are required to complete the import declarations within 14 days after the importation, but smaller import- ers of fresh produce often send their goods to market without waiting for health officers to process their declaration. The issue of the contaminated car- rots was raised in a Legislative Council panel meeting on food safety and environ- mental hygiene in May, where lawmakers complained that the food safety relied too heavily on the importer taking the initiative. Health officials, however, maintained that Japanese foods were subjected to radi- ation checks and importers were required to provide relevant import documents show- ing the prefectures from where the food originated. Since March 2011, the department has stepped up surveillance of fresh produce imported from Japan, such as milk, veg - etables and fruits, to examine radiation levels, a spokesman for the Centre for Food Safety said. More than 61,500 samples of food imported from Japan were tested last year, and the test results of all samples were satisfactory, it said. The spokesman couldn't explain how the carrot shipment dodged inspection and entered Hong Kong. It's a surprising lapse in a city that typically reacts quickly when facing food safety issues. The vast majority of Hong Kong's food is imported from main- land China, and food imports undergo close scrutiny from health officials. But other countries also find themselves on the banned list. Apart from the nuclear affected areas of Japan, the city this year also has banned poultry imports, including eggs, from several states in the U.S., from Nigeria, the West Bank in Palestine, and from Taiwan. It has banned oysters from Ireland, meat from Israel and the U.K, and cheese from France. JOC Contact Greg Knowler at and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler. Hong Kong Fails Food Safety Test A recent breach reveals a dangerous loophole in the regulation of seaborne food imports

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