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Cablegate: Hong Kong's Response to Mainland Contaminated Milk

VZCZCXRO9318
PP RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHHK #1764/01 2671154
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 231154Z SEP 08
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5854
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 3411
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5023
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HONG KONG 001764

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PASS TO USTR
HHS FOR OGHA - STEIGER, HICKEY; PASS FDA/LUMPKIN AND HICKEY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: CH EAGR ECON ETRD HK TBIO
SUBJECT: HONG KONG'S RESPONSE TO MAINLAND CONTAMINATED MILK
POWDER

REF: BEIJING 3635

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The response by Hong Kong authorities and
food retailers to reports of melamine contaminated milk
powder in the Mainland and in Hong Kong has so far been swift
and transparent. Even before the first of two Hong Kong
cases of melamine-linked infant illness was reported on 20
September, health authorities were actively testing infant
formula and other products, and major retail chains were
voluntarily removing suspect items from grocery shelves. As
of September 23, ten items have tested positive for melamine
in amounts ranging from 1.4 to 21 parts per million (ppm).
In reaction to these test results, the Hong Government
enacted an amended regulation, effective September 23, which
bans the importation and sale of dairy products and infant
foods with melamine concentrations of more then 1 ppm, and
any food product with a concentration in excess of 2.5 ppm.
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority has established a pediatric
renal taskforce and designated seven Special Assessment
Centers, supported by 18 specialty clinics, to centrally
identify, track and treat children with symptoms possibly
linked to melamine contamination. The Hong Kong Health
Department's Center for Food Safety website, located at
www.cfs.gov.hk has dedicated up-to-date postings and links
specifically following melamine contamination and related
issues, to include detailed product identification, test
results and official guidance. End Summary

The Hong Kong Response
----------------------------------

2. (SBU) The responses by Hong Kong government (HKG)
officials and health institutions to the September 11 Beijing
announcement that melamine had been found in baby formula
produced in mainland China have been swift and transparent.
The Hong Kong press has covered the story exhaustively.
Secretary for Food and Health, Dr. York Chow, has issued
several public statements in an attempt to reassure Hong
Kong,s citizenry and describe concrete steps taken by the
HKG to protect public health. One of the first steps
included the Hospital Authority's establishment of a
pediatric renal taskforce based at Princess Margaret
Hospital, and designation of seven Special Assessment
Centers, supported by 18 specialty clinics. These clinics
are providing free assessments, and will centrally monitor
and coordinate care for children (under 12) showing symptoms
possibly linked to melamine contamination. Macau
authorities, following Hong Kong,s lead, have likewise taken
steps to protect public health. Such steps included the
banning of the import and sale of products that have tested
positive by the Hong Kong government, and the suspension of
Macau,s school lunch boxed milk program, which relied on
milk imported from mainland China manufactured by Yili.

3. (U) Testing of milk-based products began almost
immediately, with the first results published on September 16
and near daily updates since then. As of September 23, over
376 samples from a variety of milk-based products had been
tested; ten samples, all from products manufactured in
Mainland China, were positive for melamine. The products
which tested positive include milk, yogurt, ice cream, dark
chocolate, and red-bean ice bars. Positive results for
melamine ranged from 1.4 to 21 ppm. (For up-to-date details
on specific products tested, official announcements,
frequently asked questions related to melamine, and guidance
for physicians, see the Hong Kong Center for Food Safety web
site at www.cfs.gov.hk.)

4. (SBU) Reacting to these positive tests for melamine and
the diagnosis of a second infant with likely melamine-linked
renal stones, Hong Kong authorities amended the Harmful
Substance in Food Regulations on 22 September, effective
September 23, to ban the importation, consignment,
manufacture and sale of milk or any food product intended for
children under the age of 36 months and pregnant or lactating
women, with melamine concentrations of more then 1 ppm; it
also bans any food product containing melamine in excess of
2.5 ppm. Violations of this regulation are subject to a
maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,410) and six months'
imprisonment. In explaining the melamine ban, Hong Kong
Secretary for Food and Health, York Chow, explained that law

HONG KONG 00001764 002 OF 002


makers had to allow room for a tiny amount of the industrial
chemical, used to make plastic, due to the effect of
migration from containers and environmental pollution, but
"the most direct way to protect ourselves is to ban this
substance in our food."

5. (SBU) Even before test results were available, Hong
Kong,s two largest grocery chains, Wellcome and Park-n-Shop,
began to voluntarily remove and offer refunds for products
which had been manufactured by the three Chinese dairy firms
associated with melamine contamination. Grocers continue to
be proactive and conservative in pulling additional products
as information becomes available. Pulled products include
those from mainland Chinese manufacturing firms as well as
imports from Japan and Taiwan with milk content thought to
have derived from mainland Chinese manufactures.

Melamine-Linked Illness Now Outside the Mainland
------------------------
---------------------------------------

6. (U) In apparently the first human melamine-linked illness
reported outside of the Mainland, HKG,s Center for Health
Protection and the Department of Health reported on September
20 that it had received notification from the Hospital
Authority of a case of renal disease likely resulting from
drinking low-fat milk processed by the Yili Industrial Group
Co. The three-year-old patient was referred to Princess
Margaret Hospital, where she is being treated for a renal
stone in her left kidney. She is expected to make a full
recovery. On September 22, the Hospital Authority confirmed
the diagnosis of a second patient with likely
melamine-related renal disease in the Special Administrative
Region. The second patient was a Hong Kong-born infant
living in mainland China, where he was diagnosed with a renal
stone and then brought to Princess Margaret Hospital by his
father.
DONOVAN

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