Written reply by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, to Parliamentary Question on Food Safety, on 5 June 2020
Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang: To ask the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources with regard to the import of wild-caught soft-shelled turtle for consumption (a) what diseases are the animals tested for; (b) for each disease, how many tests have been carried out in each year for the past five years; (c) for each disease, what are the number and percentage of test results that have been positive in each year for the past five years; and (d) whether the Minister will start collecting this data if it is not already doing so.
1 The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) takes a science-based risk assessment approach to manage food safety from farm to fork. For imports of food, SFA imposes control measures that are calibrated based on the assessed food safety risks. Importers must be licensed, and apply for import permits for each consignment of food imported into Singapore, which facilitates food traceability and recalls if any food safety infringements are found. SFA also conducts regular food safety inspections and testing of the end product to ensure that food sold in Singapore complies with our food safety standards and requirements.
2 Such control measures are applied to the import and slaughter of turtle for food in Singapore. Approximately 95% of all the turtles, including wild-caught soft shell turtles, which are imported for food are slaughtered and processed into meat products at a SFA-licensed local slaughterhouse, with the remaining live turtles being distributed to the four wet market stallholders within one market for sale. Given that the food safety and disease transmission risk associated with the import, slaughter and sale of turtles is low, SFA does not test for diseases in imported turtles which are sold live. Nevertheless, as part of SFA’s inspection regime, SFA conducts random sampling and testing of turtle meat products, including those from the SFA-licensed slaughterhouse, for foodborne pathogens such as Shigella species and Vibrio cholerae (pronounced as vee-brio collar-rae).
3 Over the past five years, SFA has collected a total of 63 samples of turtle meat products and conducted 129 laboratory tests on these samples. All test results showed that the samples met SFA’s food safety and hygiene requirements with no foodborne pathogens detected. Thus far, there have not been any foodborne outbreaks associated with the consumption of turtles.
4 In line with ongoing efforts to improve public health and environmental hygiene standards in Singapore, SFA will continue to be vigilant in its inspection regime and tighten requirements for food safety when necessary. However, the assurance of food safety is a joint responsibility across the industry, consumers and the Government. To prevent foodborne illnesses, food handlers and consumers should also observe good food safety and hygiene practices, such as the washing of hands with soap and water before and after handling any raw meat, and by thoroughly cooking the meat, which helps to kill any harmful bacteria.