August 21, 2005

Hong Kong finds suspected carcinogen in fish from China

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's government said on Sunday
it had discovered a suspected cancer-causing chemical in some
freshwater fish imported from China, but denied the mainland
had suspended exports to the territory.

The discovery is the latest in a string of health scares to
hit Hong Kong, which relies heavily on mainland China for its
food supplies.

Last week Hong Kong health officials said they had found
the same chemical, malachite green, in eels and eel meat from
mainland China, and authorities have stepped up inspections of
pork after a pig-borne disease in southwestern China infected
more than 200 people and killed nearly 40 of them.

"China has agreed to more stringent screening and testing
of fish sold to Hong Kong," Health Minister York Chow told a
news briefing.

"They have not actually suspended all the imports (to Hong
Kong) as I far as I know."

"We do not see the need to ban any freshwater fish from the
mainland ... (as) the percentage of fish that tested positive
is still on the low side," he added.

Chow said Hong Kong had told Chinese authorities about the
test results on Saturday afternoon.

He added Hong Kong needed to strengthen communications with
China, and especially neighbouring provinces, about health and
food issues.

Malachite green, which has been found to be carcinogenic in
rats, has been used widely by fish farmers to kill parasites.
The chemical is banned in many countries, including China.

Hong Kong health officials have been destroying
contaminated eels and eel products and stepping up random tests
since the chemical was found in many samples last week.

Chow had advised the public not to eat the popular
delicacy, but the government did not ban imports.

The pig-borne disease, caused by the Streptococcus suis
bacteria, has infected more than 200 people in the southwestern
province of Sichuan and fears are growing that the bacteria may
have spread to other parts of China.

Four people have been infected in Hong Kong since the
outbreak in China was first reported in June and nine so far
this year.

The government said Deputy Health Secretary Eddy Chan and
Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Gregory Leung will
leave for Beijing on Monday to discuss food safety issues with
mainland officials.