Customs and AFCD step up checks against illicit crocodile meat (with photos)

14 Nov 2007

Hong Kong Customs (C&ED) and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) join hands with Consumer Council to step up clampdown on illicit crocodile meat.

To deter trade malpractice of making false claims to crocodile meat or selling the same without proper licence/permit, Customs and AFCD conducted an operation on November 12 to follow up cases referred by Consumer Council.

Last week, Customs undercover operations were carried out, targeting suspicious activities involving illicit crocodile meat.

The Chief Trade Controls Officer, Mr Wong Yiu-cheung, today (November 14) said, "To protect consumer interest and endangered species, C&ED and AFCD are committed to eradicating illicit crocodile meat from the market and bringing offenders to justice."

"In addition to tightening spot checks, we will mount undercover operations when necessary to deter misrepresentation of dried seafood in the course of sale." Mr Wong said.

Shops claming any other meat to be crocodile meat may have contravened the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

Under the Ordinance, it is a criminal offence to sell goods with false trade descriptions to a material degree. The maximum penalty upon conviction is an imprisonment for five years and a fine of $500,000.

Besides, all species of crocodile and monitor lizard and many species of snake are endangered species listed under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, Cap. 586. Import, export, re-export or possession of specimens of these scheduled species, whether alive, dead, its parts or derivatives are subject to licence control and, in some cases, even prohibited. Traders are required to obtain the necessary permits before importing such products.

Under Cap. 586, any person found guilty of importing, exporting, re-exporting or possessing an endangered species for commercial purpose is liable to a maximum fine of $5 million and imprisonment for two years.

Consumers shall check the relevant export permits before making purchase.

If they suspect a shop may have applied false trade descriptions to goods, they can call the 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 to report.

On November 12, Customs and AFCD officers conducted an operation against six shops suspected to have misrepresented water monitor lizard meat as crocodile meat.

In the operation, a total of 8 catties of alleged dried crocodile meat (marked as either dried fish meat or crocodile meat) not covered by valid export documents were seized from two shops for testing by Government Laboratory (GL).

Besides, 6.75 catties of dried meat (marked as dried fish meat) displayed for sale in a shop were seized for testing by GL. Customs officers suspected that they were monitor lizard meat instead.

No irregularity was detected at the other 3 shops during the operation.

Two men and one woman, aged between 43 and 51, were arrested. They have been released on police bail pending further investigation.

In following up cases referred by Consumer Council, Customs officers conducted sample test purchase at 10 shops, and forwarded 10 samples (4 taels each) to GL.

In early November, test reports from GL showed that 2 samples were crocodile meat, 6 were monitor lizard meat, while one could not be identified.

According to GL, one sample is probably the meat of a kind of snake, but the exact species of which is yet to be confirmed.

Customs investigation is continuing. Officers are tracing the sources of the fake meat.

Shops supplying fake crocodile meat will be later prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

Ends/Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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