Pesticide warning on 'organic' veggies

Local | Sophie Hui 13 Mar 2017

Consumers can easily buy so-called organic produce in wet markets, but buyers beware as they contain pesticides and are not certified.

A survey by the Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre found that 41 out of 429 vegetable stalls were selling "organic" vegetables that were not certified as such and 76.9 percent, or 10 out of 13 samples, were found to contain pesticide residues.

The center took 58 vegetable samples and found five exceeded government safety levels of pesticide residues or prohibited pesticide and two of pesticide- laden samples were certified organic vegetables.

The local organic choi sum sample from Mei Foo Farmers' Market exceeded the limit for the pesticide acetamiprid while a vegetable sample collected from Tai Po Farmers' Market contained a banned pesticide.

Both local farms which supplied the contaminated vegetables have been removed from the list of organic farms on the center's website and they cannot apply for organic certification for three years.

Counterfeit produce may appear more often as the survey found 41 stalls were selling supposed organic vegetables, with the proportion of such stalls rose from 5.6 percent in 2016 to 9.6 percent this year. Wet markets in Sai Kung district were once again identified as the hub of counterfeit produce in the survey.

Six out of 13 stalls in three wet markets in Sai Kung claimed verbally or in writing that their vegetables were "organic" but failed to produce any valid certification or labels. Wet markets in Sha Tin, Wong Tai Sin and outlying islands were also identified as black spots for fake organic produce.

The center at Baptist University, which certifies organic produce, also found that 39 percent of 41 alleged organic vegetables were being sold for HK$25 per catty or more, the same as certified ones. "The government should implement stricter restrictions on alleged organic produce as the current regulation lacks sufficient deterrents and the government should investigate the farms and markets more often," Wong said.

Consumers can check if the stalls or farms are certified by the center and also check the list of organic stalls and farms on its website (www.hkorc.org) to know where to buy.

In response, the Centre for Food Safety pledged follow-up action will be taken, but it added eating the vegetables under normal circumstances poses no immediate health risk.

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