Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department


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Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What kinds of GMOs can be found in Hong Kong?
Q2.  How to apply for prior approval for a GMO intended to be released or imported for release into the environment? 
Q3. In case of damage of greenhouse during typhoon, which results in release of unapproved GM plants, will the owner of the greenhouse be prosecuted because of the release?
Q4. Where can an applicant of a GMO approval application obtain the information required for the risk assessment report?
Q5.  Why is the human health risk assessment excluded from the scope of the legislation?
Q6.  Why does the legislation set the adventitious threshold for GMOs-FFP at 5%?
Q7.  Would local commercial dealers be able to distinguish GMOs from non-GMOs?  
Q8.  How do I know the GMOs being developed and commercialised so far? 
Q9. Why does the legislation provide an adventitious threshold for GMOs-FFP but not for GMOs intended for release into the environment? 
Q10.  Will AFCD conduct a research on the variety of GM crops which are now available on local markets? 
Q11. Is it required to prepare the prescribed documents for selling GMOs produced in local laboratories, e.g. GM aquarium fish, in local markets?
Q12. Will the prescribed documents be collected for record and open to the public?
Q13. Is the GMOs (Control of Release) Ordinance concerning the labelling of GM food? 
   
   
   
   
Q1. What kinds of GMOs can be found in Hong Kong?
 

According to AFCD’s survey on the prevalence of GMOs in Hong Kong, papaya genetically modified (GM) for disease resistance was the only GM crop plant found growing in Hong Kong at present. About 60-70% of the samples of home-grown papaya plants were found to be GMOs. In addition, a similar proportion of papaya fruits collected from markets contained GM seeds. There are also some GMOs used in local laboratories for research purposes (e.g. GM microorganisms, plants, fish, mice, etc.) and some GMOs used as aquarium pet (e.g. GM fluorescent fish), but they are kept only for contained use. Overall, except for home-grown papaya, GMO is not considered to be of widespread presence in Hong Kong. Detailed results of the surveys can be found in Survey Results on GMOs in HK of this website.

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Q2. How to apply for prior approval for a GMO intended to be released or imported for release into the environment?

To apply for the approval, the applicant needs to submit the approval application for GMO intended for release into the environment to AFCD by post or in person, together with a risk assessment report and the prescribed fee payable (HK$14,250). Detailed information about the approval application can be found in the Guidelines for GMO Approval Application of this website or you can make enquiry directly to AFCD.

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Q3. In case of damage of greenhouse during typhoon, which results in release of unapproved GM plants, will the owner of the greenhouse be prosecuted because of the release?

Prosecution depends on whether the owner of the GMOs has the intention to release the GMOs into the environment. In case of typhoon, the owner should take special care such as locking the doors and repairing the damaged areas of the greenhouse in order to prevent GMOs from release into the environment.

 
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Q4.  Where can an applicant of a GMO approval application obtain the information required for the risk assessment report?
 

The developer or producer of the GMO should already have most of the background information useful for the report. However, the risk assessment must take into account the characteristics of the local environment and identify any potential adverse impacts of the GMO on the biodiversity of Hong Kong. Local ecological consultants should have the relevant expertise in this regard.

   
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Q5.  Why is the human health risk assessment excluded from the scope of the legislation? 
 

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety requires that the risk to human health should be taken into account in the risk assessment. However, according to “An Explanatory Guide to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety” published by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), it was generally accepted by the Parties of the Protocol that the risk to human health refers to the indirect risks of GMOs on human health resulting from the effects of the GMOs on biological diversity, and not the direct effects on human health caused by consuming GM food and pharmaceuticals or through direct exposure (e.g. allergy due to pollen from GM plants). In addition, issues concerning human health are being dealt with under other relevant international organisations (e.g. Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Health Organisation and Codex Alimentarius). Therefore, in line with international practice, assessment on direct risk on human health is excluded from the Ordinance. 

   
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Q6.  Why does the legislation set the adventitious threshold for GMOs-FFP at 5%? 
 

The mixing of products from different sources, including genetically modified varieties, is inevitable in commercial agricultural production, storage and transportation of agricultural products. Some Parties to the Protocol, such as Japan, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand have adopted thresholds at 5% under their domestic regulatory framework for the adventitious presence of GMOs for triggering the documentation requirements. Taking into account the small scale of local agricultural industry in Hong Kong and the fact that most GMOs-FFP are in fact not grown in Hong Kong, it is recommended that Hong Kong follows the practice of such Parties to the Protocol in adopting adventitious threshold for GMOs-FFP at 5%. In other words, if the percentage of unintentionally mixed GMOs in a shipment of living organisms for FFP does not exceed 5% in quantity, the shipment is not required to be accompanied by documentation identifying the presence of GMOs. We consider that the proposed threshold reflects a pragmatic and realistic level for the Government to manage the possible risks to our biological diversity, and for the trade to comply with. 

   
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Q7. Would local commercial dealers be able to distinguish GMOs from non-GMOs?  
 

Over 160 countries have become Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and adopted the same shipment documentation requirements. Suppliers from these countries should be able to provide information about the identities of the goods. It is also the responsibility of the local importers or exporters to ensure that the GMO shipment to be imported into or exported from Hong Kong is accompanied by prescribed documents so as to comply with the documentation requirements. 

   
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Q8.  How do I know the GMOs being developed and commercialised so far? 
 

The Biosafety Clearing House established under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety provides a searchable database or GMOs or transgenes being developed internationally. Interested public may also search at the GM Approval Database established by the ISAAA for GM crops that have been approved for commercialization and planting and/or for import for food and feed use in various countries.

   
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Q9. Why does the legislation provide an adventitious threshold for GMOs-FFP but not for GMOs intended for release into the environment?
 

The zero tolerance of adventitious presence of GMOs is recommended for GMOs intended to be released to the environment as well as for contained use. This is because if GMOs are mixed with non-GMOs and the whole lot is released into the environment, the GMOs concerned may have adverse impacts on local biodiversity. The zero tolerance level for GMOs intended for release into the environment has therefore been adopted by many Parties to the Protocol, such as the Mainland, the European Union and the South Korea. As organisms for contained use are generally for scientific research purposes, it is reasonable to expect that these organisms would not be mixed with GMOs unintentionally and their identities should also be known, hence no adventitious presence of GMOs is allowed for GMOs intended for contained use.

   
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Q10. Will AFCD conduct a research on the variety of GM crops which are now available on local markets?
 

AFCD has conducted regular survey for the presence of GMOs in various imported and locally grown crops available from local markets and farms since 2008. The survey results are available at Survey Result on GMOs in Hong Kong of this website. 

   
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Q11. Is it required to prepare the prescribed documents for selling GMOs produced in local laboratories, e.g. GM aquarium fish, in local markets?
 

The current legislation concerns about the transboundary movement of GMOs and their release into the environment. GMOs produced in local laboratories, if they are to be sold on local markets for contained use or for direct consumption as food, feed or for processing, and not to be exported, do not have to meet the documentation requirements.

   
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Q12. Will the prescribed documents be collected for record and open to the public?
 

The prescribed documents should be presented when the shipments are being imported or exported. AFCD will conduct random checking for verifying compliance with the documentation requirements. The documents will not be collected for public inspection.

   
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Q13. Is the GMOs (Control of Release) Ordinance concerning the labelling of GM food?
 

The scope of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety concerns conservation and biological diversity, and does not concern food safety and food labelling issues. Following the scope of the Protocol, the Ordinance aims at regulating environmental releases of GMOs. GM food labelling issues are addressed by another international organization (i.e. Codex Alimentarius) and other local regulations (see Genetically Modified Food).

   
   
 
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Last Review Date : 15 September 2017