Agricultural Biotechnology Annual

An Expert's View about Crops and Support Services in Hong Kong SAR

Last updated: 29 Jul 2011

U.S. food exports to Hong Kong are unlikely to be impacted by the new Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance and its subsidiary regulation which became effective March 2011.

THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT POLICY Required Report - public distribution Date: 6/14/2011 GAIN Report Number: HK1124 Hong Kong Agricultural Biotechnology Annual Annual Approved By: Erich Kuss Prepared By: Caroline Yuen Report Highlights: U.S. food exports to Hong Kong are unlikely to be impacted by the new Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance and its subsidiary regulation which became effective March 2011. The new law requires prior approval for importation of products containing living modified organisms which are to be released into the environment. If those products are imported for contained use or for feed and food, only documentation declarations are required. Hong Kong continues to adopt voluntary labeling policy for biotech foods. The Hong Kong government makes no distinction between conventional and biotech foods in terms of labeling and food safety regulating. Section I. Executive Summary: Hong Kong is one of the U.S.?s fastest growing major agricultural export markets. Currently ranking as the 7th largest market, total U.S. agricultural exports in 2010 reached a record $3.03 billion. Within that total, Hong Kong ranked as the 4th largest market for U.S. high-value consumer-ready food and beverage exports totaling $2.5 billion in 2010. In the first 3 months of 2011, U.S. high-value consumer- ready agricultural exports to Hong Kong reached $617 million, representing a growth of 23 percent over the same period in 2010. Hong Kong started to implement its Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance and the Genetically Modified Organisms (Documentation for Import and Export) Regulation in March 2011. U.S. food exports to Hong Kong are unlikely to be impacted by the new Ordinance and Regulation because there are minimal, if any, U.S. exports of living modified organisms (LMOs) to Hong Kong for release into the environment. The new law, which became effective March 1, 2011 (with a grace period for compliance ending on August 31, 2011), requires documentation for products containing LMOs. Also, prior approvals are required for products containing LMOs which are intended to be released into the environment. The Hong Kong government (HKG) introduced the new law in order to implement measures set forth under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafey. However, due to the prevalence of genetically modified (GM) papayas in local farmlands, the HKG is planning to exempt GM papayas which are to be released into the environment from the approval requirements. Table 1. Hong Kong: U.S. Agricultural Exports to Hong Kong in 2010 Products US$ million % of U.S. total exports Ranking All Agricultural, Fish & Forestry 3028 2.29 7 HS1005 Corn (Maize) 7.1 0.07 39 Soybeans 1.8 0.01 45 Sub-total 8.8 All Consumer-Oriented food products 2505 5.1 4 Source: Global Trade Atlas ? U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census The new Genetically Modified Organisms Ordinance and the Genetically Modified Organisms Regulation do not have any labeling requirements for biotech food products. Hong Kong does not impose any mandatory labeling on biotech food products but continues to maintain a voluntary labeling policy. Its food safety authority ? the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) ? advised the Legislative Council in July 2008 that there was no pressing need for mandatory labeling on biotech foods because of the lack of international consensus. It pledges to further promote the Guidelines on voluntary labeling of genetically modified (GM) food, which was first launched in July 2006. As a result, the HKG does not have any specific biotechnology regulations with regard to the labeling of biotech food products. The HKG makes no distinction between conventional and biotech foods. Thus, all are subject to the same food safety and labeling regulations. Hong Kong does not have given any indication that it plans to introduce mandatory labeling on biotech foods in the immediate future. The government?s current focus is on the implementation of its first nutrition labeling law, which took effect July 1, 2010. They are also in the process of introducing new laws regulating the use of pesticides and veterinary drugs. The HKG is constantly lobbied by consumer advocacy groups such as green peace and a number of Legislative Council (Legco) members to impose a mandatory labeling law for biotech food products. The Legco passed a motion urging the Government to expeditiously establish a genetically modified food labeling system for prepackaged food products by adopting a "voluntary first, and then mandatory" approach in order to safeguard consumers' right to know and to choose in 2003. The motion, nonetheless, was not binding. Section II. Plant Biotechnology Trade and Production: Hong Kong does not commercially produce any biotechnology crops, nor does it conduct field trials. (However, a survey indicated that 44 percent of the locally grown papayas were of GM origin). Farming is insignificant in Hong Kong. Total land use for vegetables, flowers, field crops, and orchards are 297 hectares, 153 hectares, 20 hectares and 276 hectares respectively in Hong Kong. In 2010 agricultural production amounted to $79 million, comprising $30 million in crop production, $23 million in livestock production and $27 million in poultry production. Hong Kong?s livestock and poultry industries continue to diminish, limiting future prospects for farming in Hong Kong. In recent years, the HKG has promoted organic farming as a niche market for Hong Kong?s farmers so that they could compete to grow vegetables amidst the severe competition from lower priced conventional and organic imports from Mainland China. In an effort to promote this niche industry and support the development of organic farming, an organic certification program, through the Hong Kong Organic Resource Center (HKORC), was established in 2002. Since 2004, the HKORC has provided independent organic certification services to farmers and food processors. By the standard of HKORC, all certified organic products are GM free. Hong Kong carries out research on biotech rice at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, although field trials are conducted in China. Professor Samuel Sun, in co-operation with the National China Hybrid Rice Research & Development Center, conducts research to improve the quality and nutritional value of super hybrid rice by utilizing transgenic plant production methods. According to Professor Sun, 50 percent of rice produced in China is of hybrid type, which has a yield that is 30 percent higher than conventional rice. Professor Sun?s research project is to improve the lysine content of the super hybrid rice. On the trade front, the few soybean users in Hong Kong require non-GM soybeans because of market- driven factors; for example, their processed products are exported to overseas markets demanding GM free ingredients. Buyers generally have a perception that all U.S. soybeans are of biotech origin. Some users of soybeans for processing report that Canadian Special Quality White Hilum (SQWH) grade soybean is popular among Hong Kong buyers. However importers claim that while SQWH soybeans are non-GM there is no identity preservation. In 2010, Canada accounted for 86 percent ($19 million) of Hong Kong?s soybean market while the U.S. merely for a share of 0.24 percent ($53,429). Hong Kong is not a food aid recipient and is unlikely to be a food aid recipient in the future. Survey The Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) conducted a survey between 2010- 2011 drawing 800 crop samples from markets and farms to assess the presence of GM ingredients in crop supplies, of which 27 samples were found with GM ingredients. Papaya was the crop identified with the highest percentage of GM origin. Nine out of 24 imported papaya samples or 38 percent were GM products. Three papaya samples were of U.S. origin, two of which were GM products originating from Hawaii. The GM percentage of locally grown papayas was even higher at 44 percent. The sample pool consisted of 77 U.S. products, of which 7 were biotech products. Apart from the two papaya samples mentioned above, the other five GM products were animal feed samples which were identified from a pool of 11 animal feeds samples. As AFCD is responsible for agriculture and fisheries in Hong Kong, the survey does not cover any processed foods such as breakfast cereals and chips. For more information on the survey, please see GAIN report HK1112- Survey Results Prompt HKG to Seek Exemptions to GM Ordinance. Section III. Plant Biotechnology Policy: The Food and Health Bureau (FHB) is responsible for the policy direction in regards to biotech foods. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) is the Bureau?s department for food safety, which administers its programs through its Center for Food Safety. Administration of policies relating to agricultural production falls under the portfolio of the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) within FHB. Hong Kong started to implement its Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance and the Genetically Modified Organisms (Documentation for Import and Export) Regulation in March 2011 with a six- month grace period which will end by August 31, 2011. The HKG introduced the new law in order to implement measures set forth under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafey. China has been a party to the Convention and the Protocol since 1993 and 2005 respectively. They are now extended to Hong Kong with the implementation of the new law. Under the new law, there are documentation requirements for shipments containing LMOs. If these products are to be released to the environment, additional prior approval is required. The HKG emphasized that the documentation requirements adhere strictly to the requirements stipulated by the Cartagena Protocol. According to the subsidiary regulation, documentation is required for the following categories of LMOs: a) LMOs intended for direct consumption as food, feed or for processing; (LMOs-FFP) b) LMOs intended for contained use; and c) LMOs intended for release into the environment. The following paragraphs summarize the information required for LMO shipments for various purposes. a) For LMOs-FFP If the identity of the LMO is known, the shipment contains such a LMO; if the identity of the LMO is not known, the shipment may contain such a LMO; The LMO is not intended for release into the environment; The common name, scientific name and, where available, commercial name of the LMO; The transformation event code of the LMO or, where available, its unique identifier code; and, The details of the importer or exporter (such as name, address and contact information) for further information. b) For LMOs intended for contained use The shipment contains a LMO which is intended for contained use; The common name, scientific name and, where available, commercial name of the LMO; The name, address and contact details of the consignee and the exporter or importer; The requirement, if any, for the safe handling, storage, transport and use of the LMO. If there is no requirement as stated above, a statement that there is no such requirement; and New or modified traits or characteristics of the LMO such as event of transformation, risk class, specification of use, and any unique identification, where available, as a key to accessing information in the Biosafety Clearing-House. c) For LMOs intended for release into environment The shipment contains a LMO; The common name, scientific name and, where available, commercial name of the LMO; The traits and characteristics of the LMO, including transgenic traits and characteristics such as event of transformation or, where available, a reference to a system of unique identification; The requirement for the safe handling, storage, transport and use of the LMO under applicable existing international instruments, local legislation or any agreement entered into by the exporter or importer; If there is no requirement as stated above, a statement that there is no such requirement; The name, address and contact details of the exporter or importer; The details of contact point for further information, including an individual or organization in possession of information, in case of emergency; The risk class and import approval for the first transboundary movements of the GMO; and, A declaration that the movement of the LMO is in conformity with the requirements of the Protocol and which is applicable to the exporter. There is no specific requirement regarding the form of documentation accompanying LMO shipments. The use of a commercial invoice or other documents required or utilized by existing documentation systems, or documentation as required by other local legislation and / or administrative frameworks is acceptable as documentation that should accompany the LMO shipments. Such documentation should include the information specified in the paragraphs above (as the case may be) and allow for easy recognition, transmission and effective integration of the information requirements. In addition to commercial invoices, other forms of documentation that are acceptable include import/export manifests; and licenses or certificates issued or required under other legislation (e.g. phytosanitary certificates). The AFCD provides guidelines on documentation requirements and documentation samples at the following link: Exemptions to GM Ordinance The Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance which became effective March 2011 requires that both the local production and importation of GM crops with the intention to be released into the environment obtain approval from the HKG?s AFCD. The new Ordinance was provided with a six-month grace period which will end in August 31, 2011. During the grace period, any growers with GM crops already in the field supposedly are required to notify the AFCD and seek clearance to continue to grow the GM crops. After September 1 when the grace period ends, any person growing GM crops which have not been approved by the AFCD will be in violation of the law. However, the HKG is now planning to exempt local papaya growers from applying for approval for releasing GM crops into the environment in the wake of a survey that indicated over 44 percent of local papaya growers will likely violate the new Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance by failing to obtain approval from the government for their GM crops before the grace period ends in August 31, 2011. The ?exemption? is the HKG?s attempt to find a pragmatic solution to the possibility of not being able to enforce the new regulation after September 1, given that the AFCD has yet to receive any applications from local growers? seeking approval in the context of the new ordinance. Hong Kong has little farming. Most locally produced papayas are backyard crops for self consumption with no or little commercial value. It is envisaged that many of these farmers are senior citizens living in the suburbs and may not be aware of the new ordinance. Even if they have heard of it, they might not bother to apply for approval with an application fee of over US$1800 nor would they have the expertise to submit the necessary information such as a risk assessment of the crops. The HKG foresees that enforcement of the new law with respect to the growing of papayas will be a challenge. Therefore, they are planning to provide an exemption to papayas, and any persons growing papayas in Hong Kong will not need to notify the AFCD or to apply for approval. Similar exemptions will also be provided to the importation of papaya seeds for release into the environment. Sources revealed that there are two GM varieties of papaya available in the international food markets, namely CUH-CP631-7 and its hybrid with non-transgenic variety ?Kapoho?. The HKG is planning to offer exemption to both varieties. However, the documentation requirements for the importation of GM papayas remain unchanged. The HKG explained that the exemption of papayas is unlikely to have any adverse impact on the biological diversity in Hong Kong. Also, the Ordinance has a provision allowing the Secretary to offer exemptions. To this end, the HKG is planning to complete all required legislative procedures for papayas before September 1, 2011 when the grace period of the Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance ends. Labeling of Biotech Products - Voluntary Labeling Approach There is no legislation for mandatory labeling for biotech foods or feeds. The FEHD released guidelines for voluntary labeling of biotech foods in 2006 in order to answer the public?s call for consumers? right to make informed choices. In 2008, the HKG announced that there is no need for a mandatory labeling law in Hong Kong based on an evaluation exercise of the voluntary labeling scheme. The HKG said they are not adopting a mandatory scheme because currently there is no international consensus on mandatory labeling. Their declared position is to closely monitor international development on this issue and to promote the voluntary guidelines to the trade for more widespread adoption. The guidelines were formulated by a working group established under the Center for Food Safety, with members coming from various sectors including manufacturing, wholesale, retail, consumer groups and government departments. The guidelines are advisory in nature and do not have any legal effect. Adoption is entirely voluntary and is not binding. The guidelines apply to prepackaged food. The guidelines are based on the following four principals: The labeling of biotech food will comply with existing food legislation. The threshold level applied in the guidelines for labeling purpose is 5 percent, in respect to individual food ingredients. Additional declaration on the food label is recommended when significant modifications of the food, e.g. composition, nutrition value, level of anti-nutritional factors, natural toxicant, presence of allergen, intended use, introduction of an animal gene, etc, have taken place. Negative labeling is not recommended. As the guidelines are voluntary, U.S. food exports should not be affected if they choose not to have any biotech labeling. However, it should be noted that the HKG does not encourage negative labeling when no biotech counterparts of the respective products exist. Also, the HKG does not encourage negative labeling using very definite terms such as: GMO free, Free from GM ingredients, etc For products with such definite negative labeling, the government may take the initiative to test the products against GM ingredients and a zero tolerance will be adopted for testing purposes. If products are found to have misleading labeling, a retailer may be subject to prosecution under Section 61 ? False Labeling and Advertisement of Food or Drugs of Chapter 132 Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. (Available at If the trade chooses to apply negative labeling, the government advises to use less definite terms such as ?sourced from non-GM sources? (which contains less than 5 percent of GM content) and to have documentation to substantiate such declaration. For more details, please refer to GAIN Report HK#6026. After a year of implementing the voluntary system, the HKG conducted a survey to assess the effectiveness of the voluntary scheme in 2007. The evaluation result showed that all the samples indicating biotech status carried negative labels and the majority of the negative labels are backed up by documentary proof. Also, for the samples subject to laboratory testing, all tested samples bearing negative labels did not contain any detectable biotech material or specific biotech events. Section IV. Plant Biotechnology Marketing Issues: HKG?s ?green? groups, some consumer organizations and a few Legislative Council (Legco) members have been advocating for mandatory labeling of biotech foods for many years. Their rationale is based on consumers? ?right to know?. Food safety or science is not their key argument. They also expressed doubts whether the existing voluntary labeling is effectively implemented by the trade. Lobbying by green groups and consumer organizations has gained support of certain Legco members. In January 2000, Legco adopted a motion to ?draw on the experience of most member states of the European Union and expeditiously legislate for a labeling system? and to ?conduct strict examinations and tests? on biotech foods. In June 2003, Legco passed a motion calling on the government to expeditiously establish a ?voluntary first, and then mandatory? approach to a labeling system for biotech foods. However, the results of motion are not binding for the HKG. The food industry has generally opposed to mandatory labeling of biotech foods on the grounds that it would limit the choices of consumers, reduce variety of food supplies to Hong Kong and add burden to consumers and the industry alike. Hong Kong?s retailers have said they would not import any products that carried a GM label. They believe that consumers will not choose GM products when there are other choices available. On the whole, Hong Kong consumers are not concerned about foods containing biotech ingredients. There have not been any strong actions in the public urging the HKG to adopt mandatory labeling for biotech foods in recent years. Prices and nutritional values are of bigger concern in general. However, local food processors would specify the use of non-biotech soybeans particularly if their products are exported overseas. Section V. Plant Biotechnology Capacity Building and Outreach: ATO believes that educating HKG officials, legislators, educators and media on the science-based principles and consumer benefits of biotechnology is the most effective way to maintain reasonable, science-based rules and regulations. Realizing that there is a lack of understanding in regards to biotechnology in Hong Kong, ATO launched a biotech outreach program in 2008 educating relevant stakeholders with a science-based approach on biotechnology. ATO invited Dr. Wayne Parrott, Professor of Plant Genetics at the University of Georgia, to give a series of five biotech lectures to different audiences which reached nearly 1,200 people. To achieve our objective of providing a science-based introduction of GM foods to relevant stakeholders, the outreach events included government officials who are in charge of food safety and labeling, key retailers, traders, importers and food manufactures. Also included on our participant lists were teachers and students from secondary schools in Hong Kong and Macao. Educators were provided with a copy of the presentation to use as a resource for teaching. Section VI. Animal Biotechnology: Animal farming is insignificant in Hong Kong. There is no genetic engineering and cloning being done on Hong Kong?s limited animal farms. Importation of transgenic animals is limited to two types of aquarium fish: zebra fish and rice fish. They are imported at a very insignificant amount as pet fish. With the implementation of Genetically Modified Organisms (Control of Release) Ordinance, the importation of live transgenic animals, which are to be released into the environment, are required to obtain prior approval from the AFCD. If they are imported for contained use, prior approval is not required though declaration has to be made on import documents. However, the new regulation does not have any impact on products that contain non-living GM ingredients. The HKG did not comment on FDA?s Risk Assessment on products from cloned animals and their progeny in January 2008. However, in December 2006 when FDA issued three documents on the safety of animal cloning (a draft risk assessment; a proposed risk management plan and a draft guidance for industry), the HKG immediately wrote to ATO enquiring about the U.S. control measures on production/exportation of meat and milk products from cloned animal, and whether any such product has been exported to Hong Kong. It specifically cited FDA?s request in the proposed risk management plan for industry?s voluntary moratorium on introducing products of cloned animals into commerce. While the HKG does not have any immediate plan to change their import policies on food products for cloned animals, we expect that certain legislative Council members, media and consumers group will press the HKG to look into the issue if products of cloned animals are exported to Hong Kong. The HKG may be sensitive to political pressure on this issue. Post believes any new requirement would likely seek to label the food products as cloned as opposed to banning them. With regard to cloning animal technology, the HKG has no plans underway to conduct a risk assessment.
Posted: 28 July 2011, last updated 29 July 2011

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