Popular Lantau attraction Po Lin Monastery has issued an apology after a newspaper found that its vegetarian desserts contained animal DNA.

The discovery was published on Monday by Ming Pao, which commissioned scientists from the City University of Hong Kong to test desserts from various monasteries and vegetarian restaurants. It found that two types of gelatinous desserts sold by Po Lin Monastery contained pig DNA.

Pig DNA was also found in a gelatinous dessert sold by the Chi Lin Nunnery, a tourist destination in Diamond Hill. Another sample from the nunnery contained cow DNA.

The Big Buddha in front of the Po Lin Monastery. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Chris Brown from Melbourne, Australia/cc-by-sa-2.0.

The samples contained at least five per cent animal DNA, CityU professor Cheng Suk-han said.

The Po Lin Monastery issued in a statement on Monday morning after the report was published, saying it has taken the desserts off its shelves.

“We deeply apologise for causing unnecessary concerns for people affected,” it said. “The Monastery will choose its ingredients carefully to sincerely serve the public.”

Cheng said one possibility for animal DNA in the desserts was that gelatin powder was used to make them. Another possibility was the contamination of cooking utensils.

The Chi Lin Nunnery, as well as a chef from the Po Lin Monastery, told the newspaper that they did not use gelatin powder during the cooking process.

Chi Lin Nunnery. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Rob Young from United Kingdom/cc-by-2.0.

The Chi Lin Nunnery said it will state ingredients clearly in the future for desserts containing cow’s milk, but added that it did not know why pig DNA was found in some samples. It said it will send the desserts and ingredients to a lab for testing.

The Customs and Excise Department said it was following up on the newspaper’s report. The Trade Descriptions Ordinance states that anyone applying false or misleading descriptions to goods could be fined up to HK$500,000 and sentenced to up to five years in jail.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.