Fears grow over dodgy organic veg claims

Top News | Jane Cheung 6 May 2019

Vegetable sellers are claiming their products are organic even though many of them do not have valid certificates, a university has found.

Hong Kong Baptist University's Organic Resource Centre, after checking 547 stalls across the city, found 37 that claim to sell organic vegetables. But only 22 displayed certificates to prove that.

In Wan Chai, Kwun Tong and Sai Kung, 14 stalls made such claims, but none backed their claims with certificates.

The center found four stalls displaying invalid or outdated certificates, which is illegal.

Three stalls from Sheung Tak Market at Tseung Kwan O, Kowloon City Market and Aberdeen Main Road showed expired certificates, with two of them coming from two disqualified organic farms.

The center said another shop in Kowloon City Market displayed a counterfeit certificate that was produced with a photocopying machine. It has passed the information to the Customs and Excise Department.

The center director, department of biology professor Jonathan Wong Woon-chung, said his team also found pesticide residues in more than 70 percent of vegetable samples, including three samples that exceeded local limits.

The center collected 60 samples from 17 wet markets between September and November last year. Pesticide residues were found in 43 samples.

They were vegetables from both mainland and Hong Kong, including one-fifth of "organic" vegetables farmed in the mainland.

Wong said in one amaranthus sample from Lok Fu Market, they found 4.02 milligram cypermethrin per kilogram of the vegetable, double the pesticide amount allowed by the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation.

"Cypermethrin can lead to spasm, nausea, vomit and even coma," he said.

Another choi sum sample supplied by a mainland farm and purchased from Yeung Uk Road Market in Tsuen Wan contained 11 milligram trichlorfon per kilogram of the vegetable, which was 0.1 milligram per kilogram higher than the maximum residue limit by law.

"Trichlorfon may have an impact on the nervous system, leading to arrhythmia, coma, neurological disorder or paralysis due to brain damage," Wong said. He added one locally produced choi sum bought at Smithfield Road Market in Kennedy Town contained 0.1 milligram trichlorfon per kilogram - the highest level allowed by the law.

Under the European Union pesticide residue standard, 35 of them - 58.3 percent - exceeded the limit.

"According to the World Health Organization's tolerable intake, if an adult consumes 1.3 kilograms of the most severely trichlorfon-contaminated choi sum, or if a child consumes 273 grams of such choi sum a day, the intake of such pollutant would be higher than the WHO's tolerated level," he said. For the most severely cypermethrin-tainted vegetables, an adult only has to consume 348 grams and a child 75 grams to exceed the intake level advised by the WHO.

"However, the study showed that health risks caused by pesticide-polluted local choi sum and local self-claimed organic amaranthus to both adults and children still remains at a low level," Wong said.

"But vegetarians, vegans and children should be more careful when choosing vegetables and they should avoid sticking to only one or two types of vegetables."

Leung Siu-fai, director of agriculture, fisheries and conservation, said the government needs to follow up on the organic-claim and pesticide issues.

"There are voices demanding legislation to regulate organic farms, but a previous study showed that the local organic market is small and legislation may not have any positive effect in the development of the industry," he said.


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