Following is a question by the Hon Fred Li and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (March 4):
On February 2, the State General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine ordered a manufacturer to stop adding to its dairy products two additives which have not been approved for use in food products: osteoblast milk protein and insulin-like growth factor-1. Some academics have pointed out that intake of large quantities of such substances over a long period of time may increase the risk of developing many kinds of cancers. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) whether the authorities, after the incident has come to their knowledge, have requested the sellers concerned to recall dairy products containing the above two substances on sale in Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(b) whether it knows the types of prepackaged food products, apart from dairy products, which contain such substances at present; if so, of the details;
(c) whether it knows the countries and regions which prohibit the addition of such substances to food products; and
(d) whether it will consider amending the legislation to prohibit the sale of prepackaged food products containing such substances in Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
First of all, Osteoblast Milk Protein (OMP) and Insulin Growth factor-1 (IGF-1) are some natural ingredients of bovine milk. Mengniu's "Milk Deluxe OMP", a milk drink fortified with OMP, has not been imported to Hong Kong.
According to an announcement made recently by the Ministry of Health of Mainland China, Mainland experts have looked into the food safety aspects of the use of OMP by the Mengniu company, and believed that Mengniu's OMP milk products currently available in the market do not pose adverse health effect to consumers. The Ministry of Health stated that OMP is the commercial term introduced by the Mengniu company for a product imported from New Zealand via Shanghai Tongyuan Food Technology Co. Ltd. for use as a milk product ingredient. Summarising the public information released recently by the relevant authorities of Mainland China, and the Mengniu company, OMP is the bovine milk protein fraction derived from milk by certain means, including degreasing and membrane filtration, etc., and is composed primarily of lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, etc. OMP is not IGF-1. IGF-1 is a natural hormone-like protein produced endogenously by living organisms. Mengniu has declared that no additional IGF-1 was added to "Milk Deluxe OMP".
Regarding the four parts of the question, my response is as follows:
(a) As stated above, Mengniu's "Milk Deluxe OMP" has not been imported to Hong Kong. This was shown from the information provided by the relevant Mainland authorities and the Hong Kong importers, and records of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).
Sale of imported milk or milk beverage requires the prior permission of the FEHD under law. Approval will only be granted to the importation of the products for sale in Hong Kong when the FEHD has conducted detailed examination to ensure that the ingredients of the product, the heat treatment method and the product label comply with the local legislation.
Until now, the FEHD has not received any application for importing Mengniu's "Milk Deluxe OMP" for sale in Hong Kong.
(b) According to the announcements made by the relevant authorities of Mainland China, OMP is the bovine milk protein fraction derived from milk by certain means, including degreasing and membrane filtration, etc., and is composed primarily of lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, etc. These proteins are naturally present in bovine milk.
IGF-1 is a hormone-like protein produced endogenously by living organisms. It is widely present in different tissues and body fluids in various amounts. IGF-1 is a normal component of human milk and bovine milk, with concentrations of 1-9 nanogram(s) per millilitre (ng/ml) in bovine milk and 5-10 ng/ml in human milk generally. As the exposure to IGF-1 from bovine milk by humans is far less than the IGF-1 endogenously produced by human themselves, the IGF-1 in bovine milk will not cause any adverse health effects under normal consumption.
(c) & (d) The Mengniu company claimed that OMP was known as Milk Basic Protein (MBP) in the United States, Europe, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Japan etc., and had been in use for years in those countries and regions. Countries such as Japan and the United States also permit the addition of MBP in certain specified foods. Our understanding is that under the Mainland's regulations, OMP cannot be used as a food additive without the prior permission of the relevant authorities.
IGF-1 is a natural hormone-like protein produced endogenously by living organisms. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) pointed out that although IGF-1 was a mitogen that could promote the growth of cells (both normal and tumorous), it would only become a risk to health if the exposure to IGF-1 reached a high level. Consumption of bovine milk containing a normal amount of IGF-1 will not pose any health risk.
Although OMP components and IGF-1 are naturally present in bovine milk, both substances are not common food ingredients or food additives, and the food safety authorities of some countries (such as the Mainland and Japan) require prior approval of these substances before they could be launched in the market. It should be emphasised that unconventional food ingredients or food additives which have not yet obtained approval does not necessarily mean that the use of these substances in food is not safe.
The Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) stipulates that any food offered for sale on the market must be fit for human consumption. The Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) has not established any international standard for OMP or IGF-1 and both substances are not included in the Codex General Standard for Food Additives. We have no plan to amend the existing legislation to regulate the two additives at this stage. However, we will continue to collect and analyse scientific research reports and consider regulating these substances where necessary.
Ends/Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Issued at HKT 14:59