The territory’s Food and Environmental Hygiene department last week put proposals for changes to adulteration regulations concerning the limit for metallic contaminants in food to the public over a three-month period.
They deal principally with recommended limits for carcinogens and other heavy metals at a time of growing imports to Hong Kong from China and other neighbouring countries. The current permitted levels have not been changed since 1983.
A spokesman for the department said the government had referred to international food safety standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission following a risk assessment conducted by the Centre for Food Safety.
Under the proposal, existing categories of "all food in solid/liquid form," will be replaced with specific maximum levels targeting individual food or food groups, with more focused categories.
The move will increase the total number of maximum levels of metallic contaminants from 19 to 145. Ninety of these will be made more stringent, while six will be relaxed.
The maximum cadmium level for polished rice, for example, is now set at 0.1mg per kilo, lower than the Codex limit of 0.4mg/kg.
The maximum level of lead allowed in a number of fruits and vegetables is expected to go down to around 0.1-0.3mg/kg from the current 6mg/kg.
The department said it would consider putting in place a grace period for the amendments to come into effect to give businesses time to implement the new standards.
The proposal is not universally popular, however, with one lawmaker criticising it for being “unscientific”.
The Democratic Party’s Helena Wong Pik-wan warned that Hong Kong should not “lower any food safety standard just to match the level of exporting countries”, adding that “economic benefit should not override public health concern”.
Yet the government hopes that the impact of these changes on food supplies would be minimal.
It is not yet known when a bill will be tabled to the legislature following the consultation.