Earlier, some people smuggled cooked cat and dog meat into Hong Kong and sold it in licensed fresh food shops. The suspicious meat was later tested in a laboratory by a journalist who snuck in and confirmed that it was undoubtedly cat and dog meat. The incident caused a public outcry. The sale and consumption of cats and dogs has been banned by law in Hong Kong since the 1950s, and it is illegal to possess cats and dogs with the intention of slaughtering them for consumption. Under the Dogs and Cats Ordinance, offenders are liable to a maximum fine of HKD 5,000 and imprisonment for six months. Seventy years after the legislation was enacted, it is extremely rare for dog and cat meat to be sold openly in local shops, although there are still rumours of people going into hiding to cook and eat their meat. The sale of dog and cat meat is socially and legally unacceptable. Even though this is an isolated incident, the authorities must take strict enforcement action to set an example.
The dogs and cats found in this case were all treated to meat, and it was difficult to tell which type of meat was being sold to the naked eye. It is reported that after receiving a complaint about the sale of dog and cat meat, the department only visited the shop in question to check the licence, but did not also take away samples of the suspected meat for further testing. This is undoubtedly a rather sloppy way of handling the matter. It was reported that there was more than one visit to the shop, so it is clear that the department’s initial approach was wrongly focused. However, when the incident was revealed by the media, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department acted quickly, showing that the government department was very concerned about the situation. This kind of work attitude is worthy of recognition.
Inter-departmental cooperation is the only way to get things done
However, this incident has highlighted the need for better inter-departmental collaboration. The general public is not aware that the problem of dog and cat meat is enforced by the AFCD. The public reported the problem to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department but instead of promptly informing the AFCD to enforce the law, the authorities only visited the premises to check the licence, failing to target the problem. If the extent and nature of the problem is beyond the enforcement authority of a department, it is the responsibility of the frontline staff to report the actual situation and difficulties to their superiors. When the higher level becomes aware of the situation, it should take the initiative to inform other relevant departments to deal with it together. This is the right way to solve the problem. As Chief Executive John Lee said, to give the public a government that can do and achieve things, we must aim for results and effectively address the complaints and problems of the public.
In recent years, the cross-border e-commerce business has been developing rapidly and many goods are shipped to Hong Kong from the Mainland every day. The meat of dogs and cats in the case is said to have been smuggled in from the Mainland. Therefore, to combat the sale of cat and dog meat, apart from the joint efforts of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the Customs and Excise Department should also step up inspections at land boundary control points, conduct more random checks on imported fresh meat and use search dogs to check whether there is any suspicious meat hidden in the cargo, so as to prevent the importation of prohibited meat into Hong Kong. The public is strongly urged not to buy and consume smuggled meat as it is of unknown origin and poses a serious food safety risk. Butchers should also abide by the law and sell only legal meat. Anyone found selling suspicious meat in the market should immediately inform government departments for follow-up action. The government, the public and the business community should work together on all fronts to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
Chan Hak-kan, Gary
Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong
Full article published in Sing Tao Daily on 22 February 2023