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Chinese Health Scares Raise Questions About Food Supply


Hong Kong health officials are in Beijing to investigate the safety of China's food exports to the territory following a series of recent health scares. In a city heavily reliant on the mainland for its food supply, many Hong Kong residents are wondering what is safe to eat.

Hong Kong's Health Secretary, York Chow, held talks with Chinese counterparts in Beijing Tuesday about the safety of the food China is exporting to the territory.

Speaking after the meetings, Mr. Chow says Hong Kong and Beijing have agreed to communicate better over health issues.

Mr. Chow made the trip after a rapid-fire series of food scares erupted over infected pork and tainted fish and eel from the mainland, where most of Hong Kong's supply of fresh food comes from.

A pig-borne bacterial disease has recently killed dozens of people in Sichuan Province and infected people in several other provinces. At least 11 cases of the disease have also been reported in Hong Kong, although there have been no deaths here so far. Sichuan pork was banned here after the outbreak was reported earlier this month.

Last week, eel and several varieties of freshwater fish from Southern and Eastern China were found to be contaminated by cancer-causing toxins. Hong Kong has not banned mainland fish, but exports have fallen, pushing fish prices up in the city.

This woman, shopping in a fresh food market, says the government should have acted sooner on the problem, because so many people eat pork and fish. She says she will eat more vegetables from now on.

The Chinese typically demand fresh ingredients for their food. Housewives, cooks and domestic helpers often shop at the fresh food markets at least once a day.

This butcher, who sells only pork from local farms, said the health scare has destroyed his business. He says the government should never have imported infected pigs. Now, he says, people are also afraid to buy local pork.

Mr. Chow, the health secretary, said Hong Kong will now resume imports of pork from Sichuan Province, where the swine disease first broke out. Beijing says the outbreak is under control.

But on Tuesday, three new infections and one death were reported in Guangdong province, just across the border from Hong Kong.

A lack of transparency from Beijing about the health scares has left many people in Hong Kong worried about a repeat of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)crisis in 2003. China covered up the origin of that new disease in Southern China until it began to spread worldwide, eventually killing 800 people.

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