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N$1.2M lost in Hong Kong Oyster suspension

Mon, 16 February 2015 05:45
by Charmaine Ngatjiheue

Namibian Oyster farmers lost about N$1.2 million during the time that Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety (CFS) suspended imports of live oysters from Namibia after tests detected high levels of cadmium in the oyster samples.
The Hong Kong CFS suspended import of oysters from Walvis Bay Harbour since 25 December and continued scrutiny of oysters imported from Namibia at retail level, the suspension lasted until late January.
The Chairman of the Namibian Mariculture Association, Gonçalo Murta, said that the indirect losses experienced by the sector was about six clients out of a total of eight clients from Hong Kong.
Murta added that this was due to a lack of an official statement about Oysters coming from New Zealand, saying, that officials there are still keeping the Oysters until tests have been completed.
Meanwhile, Murta noted that the official press statement from the Hong Kong CFS did not ban the live Oysters per se, but instead stated that the Oysters from Namibia were forbidden to enter their country.
“The Oysters from Namibia went to maximum surveillance from the Hong Kong authorities, since 25 December until last week the suspension was given by the Namibian authorities that restricted the export of live Oysters to Hong Kong. Now we have received information that we are able to export our Oysters to Hong Kong but there is no official clarification on this issue,” noted Murta.
Murta further noted that due to the suspension, most of the farmers stopped exporting to Hong Kong, and in addition the industry’s reputation has been damaged.
“There is no clear sign to the other countries that our Oysters are safe, even after the change in management plan and the results obtained,” he said.
Murta went on to say that the Namibia Standards Institutions (NSI) said they are willing to receive the full competency concerning the Shellfish monitoring and sanitation program to monitor the cadmium levels in live Oysters but they are waiting for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) to sign the authorization.
“NSI has the capabilities and competencies. Indeed they are doing the program, the only thing is that they are not legally authorized to be the competent authority, even in 2007 it was agreed that all the programs would be taken by the NSI,” said Murta.
According to the minutes of a meeting that took place late January between the Mariculture Association of Namibia, the NSI and the MFMR, there is still a legal confusion and towards the end of February the Ministry will address an inter-ministerial meeting to fix the legal confusion.
“While everything is on draft, the guidelines that were identified to be used were CODEX guidelines, and those are the ones that have been used for a long time,” noted the minutes in part,
Meanwhile, the Public Relations Officer at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Charlie Matengu said  the Ministry cannot confirm the suspension of Namibia’s Oysters to Hong Kong as they have not received or seen anything in writing to that effect, adding that they have just seen and heard about it in the local media.
Oyster farmers export annually a rough amount of 500 000 live Oysters to markets in Hong Kong, Beijing and South Africa and the latest figures for the Namibian Oyster export earnings are estimate to be in the range of N$10 million per year.
“Our current Oyster markets include local hotels, Hong Kong and South Africa,” said Matengu.
Matengu added that until the original results are received by the Permanent Secretary of his line Ministry, they are not at liberty to discuss this issue with the media.
“From the Ministries side we are unable to say anything as this issue has not been officiated and thus we cannot comment until we receive something formal. We cannot comment until we have substantiated evidence that the suspension took place, we cannot work with hearsays,” he said.