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LCQ19: "Health food" product regulation

     Following is a question by the Ir Dr Hon Raymond Ho and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (February 4):


     Regarding the regulation of the sale and labelling of health food products, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  of the existing measures in place to ensure that the labels on the packaging of health food products truthfully indicate the ingredients of the products concerned;

(b)  of the existing regulatory measures prohibiting sellers from making exaggerated statements or misrepresentations in advertisements regarding the efficacy of health food products;

(c)  whether it will consider making it mandatory for sellers to place a warning notice of "excessive consumption may lead to undesirable side effects" on a prominent position of the packaging of health food products; if it will not, of the reasons for that; and

(d)  whether it will step up the relevant publicity work, by broadcasting "Announcements in the Public Interest" on radio and television as well as through other media (such as the websites of government departments), to provide members of the public with information on health maintenance and things to note when consuming health food products?



(a)  There is no universally accepted definition of "health food" products.  Different terms such as dietary supplements, nutraceuticals, designed foods, functional foods and natural health products are used on different occasions to refer to similar products.  In Hong Kong, "health food" products generally sold on the market, depending on their ingredients, are regulated by the following ordinances:

(i)  "Health food" products which contain medicines are regulated under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap 138).  These medicines must meet the requirements in respect of safety, quality and efficacy before they can be registered.  They should also be labelled with such particulars as ingredients, dosage and method of usage.  Inspectors of the Department of Health (DH) inspect pharmacies and medicine shops frequently to see if there are false descriptions or descriptions which are different from those approved when the products were registered.  Besides, samples of medicines and "health food" products sold on the market are taken for tests by the DH from time to time.  Actions are also taken to investigate and follow up complaints.  If the products are found to contain unregistered western medicines after investigation and testing, the DH will take legal actions and require the shops to recall their products immediately.

(ii)  All products which fall within the definition of proprietary Chinese medicines (pCms) under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap 549), i.e. products which are composed solely of Chinese medicines as active ingredients and for treatment and health promotion purposes, are regulated under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance.  Such products must meet the requirements in respect of safety, quality and efficacy before they can be registered.  The Chinese Medicine Ordinance requires the labelling of registered pCms to include main ingredients, method of usage, dosage, packing specifications, place of production, etc.  All pCms must comply with the statutory requirements after full implementation of the provisions relating to the registration of pCms.

(iii)  "Health food" products which cannot be classified as Chinese medicine or western medicine are regulated under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132) as general food products.  The Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance requires the manufacturers and sellers of food to ensure that their products are fit for human consumption and comply with the requirements in respect of food safety, food standards and labelling.  According to the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) Regulations (Cap 132W) under the Ordinance, all prepackaged food should bear labels which correctly list out the ingredients of the food.

(b)  There are different ordinances regulating advertisements in different areas.  The Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Cap 362) prohibits the making of false trade descriptions in respect of the method of manufacture, composition, testing results and fitness for purpose in an advertisement.  The "Generic Code of Practice on Television Advertising Standards" and the "Radio Code of Practice on Advertising Standards" issued pursuant to the Broadcasting Ordinance (Cap 562) and the Broadcasting Authority Ordinance (Cap 391) stipulate that an advertisement of any product or service must not contain any descriptions, claims or illustrations that depart from truth.  

     Besides, the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance makes it an offence for any person to use or to display a food label which falsely describes the food or is calculated to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality.  The Ordinance also makes it an offence for any person to publish, or to be a party to the publication of, an advertisement which falsely describes any food.  If any advertisements of food products (including "health food" products) are suspected to have violated the relevant requirements, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will make follow-up investigations.  Prosecution will be considered for substantiated cases.  Non-compliance with the above two provisions is subject to a maximum fine of $ 50,000 and six-month imprisonment.  

     In addition, the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment: Requirements for Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claim) Regulation 2008 made under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance regulates the nutrition labelling and claims of general food products, including requiring the nutrient function claims on the labels and advertisements of prepackaged food to comply with the statutory requirements.  The Amendment Regulation will come into effect on July 1, 2010.  The new provisions will enable consumers to make healthy food choices; encourage food manufacturers to provide food products that are conducive to public health and meet sound nutrition principles; and regulate misleading or deceptive nutrition information labels and claims.

(c)  As mentioned in the reply to part (a), the so-called "health food" products are regulated under different ordinances depending on their ingredients.  The current regulatory framework of medicines and pCms requires the trade to clearly state their side effects and display warning notices under specified circumstances.

     For medicines, the DH has issued the Guidelines on the Labelling of Pharmaceutical Products (the Guidelines) to explain the statutory requirements on the labelling of registered pharmaceutical products.  These requirements include the display of points to note and warning notices (e.g. "it is dangerous to exceed the stated dose") on certain pharmaceutical products, as specified in the Guidelines.  Any person who intends to apply for registration of a medicine under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance must submit samples of labels and packages in compliance with the Guidelines upon application.

     In addition, any person who intends to apply for pCm registration under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance must submit the labels, package inserts and sales packs which have complied with the Chinese Medicines Regulation at the time of application.  The package inserts should specify information such as the indications, contra-indications, side-effects and toxic effects of the pCm and the precautions to be taken regarding its use.  The application requirements and necessary information to be submitted are detailed in the Application Handbook for Registration of Proprietary Chinese Medicines for reference of the trade.

(d)  Leading a healthy lifestyle is the key to having good health.  Medical research indicates that maintenance of good health requires a balanced diet, moderate amount of exercise, and avoidance of smoking and alcohol.  The public need not rely on a particular type of "health food" product to stay healthy.

     The DH has been providing tips of healthy living and health maintenance to the public through various publicity channels, including announcements of public interest on television, pamphlets, different kinds of health education materials and websites, so as to promote health, prevent diseases and protect public health.  Relevant information has been uploaded to the website of the Central Health Education Unit of the DH at and is also available to the public through the 24-hour Health Education Hotline.

Ends/Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Issued at HKT 15:20


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