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LCQ8: Code of marketing of breast-milk substitutes

     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 (November 10):


     The World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (WHO Code) as early as 1981, and recently the Department of Health has indicated that it has set up a multi-disciplinary task force to draw up a Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes (local code).  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the terms of reference of the aforesaid task force;

(b) how the local code to be drawn up will implement the WHO Code in Hong Kong;

(c) given that the WHO Code stipulates that milk powder dealers should not directly or indirectly provide samples of milk products to pregnant women, mothers or members of their families when marketing breast milk substitutes, whether the Government had reminded local hospitals and private medical practitioners in the past five years that they should not promote or provide samples of milk products to these people on behalf of milk powder dealers; if it had, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d) whether the Government will enforce the local code on a mandatory basis; if not, how the Government will make milk powder dealers comply with the local code on a voluntary basis?



(a) The Department of Health (DH) has set up a Task force on Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes at the end of June 2010 comprising representatives from relevant government departments (including Food and Health Bureau, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority), Hospital Authority (HA), Consumer Council, specialist groups, non-governmental organisations, and other major local partners.  The terms of reference of the Task force are as follows:

* To develop and promulgate the Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes according to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the Code) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions;

* To develop a system for monitoring the compliance with the Hong Kong Code; and

* To monitor the compliance with the Hong Kong Code by the trade.

(b) The WHO Code stipulates a number of basic requirements for regulation of undesirable marketing practises in the sale of milk powder, and in particular, emphasises the responsibility of milk powder manufacturers and distributors in complying with the aim and principles of the Code.  At present, we rely on milk powder manufacturers and distributors in Hong Kong to exercise self-discipline in compliance with the Code in the monitoring of their marketing practises.  Where non-compliance of the WHO Code was noted, DH would issue warning letters to the manufacturers involved.  To enhance our monitoring, the Government is now drafting a set of local Code that is applicable in Hong Kong, in accordance with the WHO Code.

(c) DH has produced publicity leaflets on breastfeeding and distributed them to private hospitals and clinics.  Besides, public hospitals have banned promotional activities on breast-milk substitutes within their premises.  Starting from April 1, 2010, HA purchases milk powder from contract suppliers by tender and no longer accepts free samples of breast-milk substitutes.  It is also stipulated in the tender contracts that the suppliers must comply with the WHO Code.  Specific requirements set out in the contract include: promotion of breast-milk substitutes in hospitals is prohibited; suppliers are not allowed to distribute free samples to mothers; company representatives are not allowed to contact mothers; suppliers are not allowed to present gifts or personal samples to health workers; words or images idealising consumption of milk powder are banned; information provided to health workers must be scientific and factual, etc.  These requirements aimed at ensuring that the sale and advertising of breast-milk substitutes will not discourage breastfeeding so as to achieve more effective implementation of the breastfeeding policy in hospitals and to further enhance the ever-breastfeeding rate in new born babies. Over the past 10 years, the percentage of babies discharged from public hospitals who had been breastfed has risen from 53% in 2000 to 73% in 2009.

(d) At present, many countries like Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia etc have formulated voluntary guidelines applicable in their own countries for compliance by the trade with reference to the WHO Code.  In light of the experience of other countries, it would be more effective in the control of undesirable marketing practises if appropriate monitoring and sanction mechanisms are put in place in tandem with implementation of the Code.  We expected the drafting of the Hong Kong Code will be completed by the end of 2011 for implementation in 2012.  DH will monitor the situation and canvass the views of various parties to consider if there is a need to step up enforcement and regulation through the local Code.

Ends/Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:13


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