Hong Kong is often touted as a gourmet paradise, yet Hong Kong imports most of its food, leaving it vulnerable to the food-producing standards of countries where it sources its produce. During the first decade of the new millennium, Hong Kong was subject to numerous food safety incidents, such as melamine in milk and malachite green in fish, to name just two. In situations where a territory is highly dependent on imported produce, it is imperative that the appropriate professionals are involved in risk assessment, sampling, testing and plant inspection, but most importantly that they are intimately involved in primary production, the "farm to fork" approach or "healthy animals give healthy food" approach.
With varying standards of veterinary medicine in the region, and faced with an impossible task to inspect each and every part of food production ourselves, a School of Veterinary Medicine can now make huge inroads into improving standards in food safety in Hong Kong and the region.
Unlike most developed countries, Hong Kong currently has no privately practicing veterinarians who primarily work on farms or food safety. Yet there are still 43 pig farms and 30 poultry farms without proper veterinary care which feed the local population. The lack of clinically practicing veterinarians in this field poses a risk for food safety given that 57% of live poultry consumption and 7% of live pig consumption is from Hong Kong livestock. Even if local farmers wanted to practice the 'farm-to-fork' food safety principles, the lack of veterinarians makes this impossible.
Furthermore, there are no veterinary inspectors within the slaughterhouse post-mortem inspection line, which differs from the standards of most developed countries that require veterinarians by law to inspect meat products during the slaughter process prior to marketing and consumption.
As most of our food is derived across international borders and from Mainland China, there is a need to ensure that imported food is of highest quality by emphasizing the important roles of veterinarians through education. Other examples of recent food scares include radiation contamination in fish, toxins in shellfish, Sudan red in chicken eggs, pesticide residues in vegetables, E.Coli STEC 0157 in beef products, Streptococcus suis in pigs and Beta agonists such as clenbuterol in pork.
Veterinarians are involved in all aspects of food safety, e.g. monitoring of livestock farms, animal marketing, control of slaughter, processing of animal products, importation, distribution, risk assessment and risk communication. Although veterinarians employed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) are required by many overseas health authorities such as the European Union to certify food products for export (e.g. mooncakes, which contain duck eggs), we do not require such certification or safety checks for our own consumption in Hong Kong.