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Cablegate: Hong Kong Gov't Panel Report On Melamine

VZCZCXRO7781
PP RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHHK #1999/01 3030928
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 290928Z OCT 08
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6138
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HONG KONG 001999

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE PASS TO USTR

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ECON ETRD TBIO HK CH
SUBJECT: HONG KONG GOV'T PANEL REPORT ON MELAMINE
CONTAMINATION

REF: HONG KONG 1764

1. (SBU) Summary: The Hong Kong Government (HKG) has been
working around the clock to test for melamine contamination;
over 2,700 tests have resulted in over 34 imported products
being pulled from store shelves. Over 41,700 children have
been voluntarily tested for possible melamine related health
problems; ten children have been identified in Hong Kong with
kidney stones possibly linked to melamine consumption. On
October 20, 2008 the HKG released a special report by the
Expert Group on Melamine (the Expert Group) detailing HKG
actions and making specific recommendations for future steps.
These include implementing a more sustainable melamine
contamination testing regime and passage of legislation
empowering the government to prohibit the importation and
order the recall of foods deemed dangerous to public health.
Draft legislation is expected to be submitted to the
Legislative Council (Legco) on November 4. Permanent
Secretary for Health, Sandra Lee, told Econoff and
Agricultural Attach on October 27 that the discovery of
melamine in eggs imported from the Mainland on October 26
will lead to expanded testing in the short term, delaying
plans to scale back testing to a more sustainable level.


2. (SBU) Comment: The HKG response to melamine contamination
has been swift, transparent and effective. Despite an initial
run on non-Mainland produced infant formula, public fears
were quickly addressed and people seem confident in the HKG's
response, but media interest continues to be high. Legco
members from all political parties have lined up in support
of the proposed legislation, all but assuring a quick
passage.


The Expert Group on Melamine
----------------------------

3. (SBU) Responding to the mid-September discovery of
melamine contaminated infant formula (REFTEL), the HKG
established an Expert Group on the Melamine Incident on
September 23. The Secretary for Food Health and Safety, Dr.
York Chow, who chairs the Expert Group, is charged with
protecting public health and recommending ways to prevent
future food safety threats. The Expert Group is composed of
members from both the public and private sectors with
specific expertise in public health, food safety, the medical
and academic community, and communications. The Group
presented its findings and recommendations on October 20. In
a public news conference, Chief Secretary for Administration
Henry Tang endorsed the Group's recommendations and pledged
to introduce legislation to allow the banning and recall of
unsafe food products in Hong Kong.

Melamine Testing Results and Recommendations
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The Expert Group noted that the HKG Center for Food
Safety (CFS) had announced melamine test results on over
2,700 food product samples, of which 34 (covering 15 brands
imported from a number of countries) contained melamine above
established limits. Retailers have voluntarily withdrawn from
store shelves all products that tested positive. Noting the
increased emphasis on quality control in China and the effect
on other Hong Kong services, the Expert Group recommended the
continued testing of raw and pasteurized/UHT milk from China,
but called for the adoption of a more sustainable and
targeted approach to testing. This would gradually reduce the
quantity of samples tested from nearly 100 per day to around
100 per week as part of a standardized routine surveillance
program.

5. (SBU) Permanent Secretary for Health and Vice Chairman for
the Expert Group, Sandra Lee, told Econoff and Agricultural
Attach on October 27 that the October 26 discovery of
melamine in fresh eggs from the Mainland was unexpected and
the HKG will now expand the testing regime to include
chicken/other poultry, pork and farmed fish. The discovery
of melamine in unprocessed animal products is likely the
result of contaminated animal feed. Lee noted that the CFS is
currently testing at capacity for melamine 24 hours a day, 7
days per week. CFS has briefed private firms capable of
conducting the tests and is now considering out-sourcing some
of the HKG testing to lesson the burden. The new testing
requirements for fresh foods will delay plans to scale back

HONG KONG 00001999 002 OF 002


testing, however.

The Health Care Response to Melamine Contamination
--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (SBU) The Expert Group report praised the Center for
Health Protection (CHP) and Hospital Authority for their
screening programs and ability to allay public fear in the
wake of the melamine discovery, noting that the CHP had
handled over 9,866 telephone inquiries. After peaking at
1,876 calls on 25 September, inquiries fell to only 65 calls
on 18 October. Referrals from the CHP hotline and walk-ins
at specially designated Hospital Authority clinics have
resulted in over 41,748 voluntary initial screenings of
children under 12 (averaging between 500-600 per day) and
over 12,394 secondary referrals for additional testing. CHP
has identified 10 cases of children in Hong Kong to date with
kidney stones suspected to be melamine-related. Based on the
dramatic drop in inquiry calls and the falling demand for
screening consultations, the Expert Group recommended the
information hotline be scaled back to normal business
operating hours. Voluntary screening clinics have already
scaled back to regular operating hours but will continue to
operate for an additional six months. Dr. Liza Kay, HKG Food
and Health Bureau, told Econoff and Agriculture Attach on
October 27 that the Health Bureau has an excellent working
relationship with both the Guangdong and Central Government
authorities and Mainland health organizations are fully
cooperating with HKG authorities, including arranging a
recent HK Health Bureau trip to Hubei province to discuss
ongoing clinical evaluations and patient care.

The Authority to Ban Imports and Mandate Product Recalls
--------------------------------------------- -----------

7. (SBU) Following the Expert Group recommendations, the HKG
on October 24 released for public review proposed legislation
to amend the current Public Health and Municipal Ordnance to
give the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene authority
to prohibit the importation or supply of any food which is
determined to be of danger to public health and to direct
that such food be recalled, impounded or otherwise destroyed.
(Note: under current law, HKG health authorities cannot ban
the importation of suspected problem food and can only
recommend food product recalls.) In discussing this proposal,
Lee told Econoff that the unexpected discovery of melamine in
eggs drove home the point how important passage of this
legislation is. The HKG will formally present the bill to
Legco on or about November 4. Members of all parties have
spoken out in favor of the measure, which we expect to pass
with little debate. An electronic version of the Expert Group
Report is available on the HKG Food and Health Bureau Web
Site at www.fhb.hk/en/index/html.
DONOVAN

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