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LCQ20: Nutrition labelling
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     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (January 19):

Question:

     The legislation on nutrition labelling has come into force since July 2010.  Regarding the implementation of the legislation, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the authorities have conducted surveys to ascertain the public's level of awareness of nutrition labelling and change in attitude to the choice of food products since the implementation of the aforesaid legislation, so as to find out if the public know how to choose food products and develop healthy diets; and whether the authorities have reviewed the effectiveness of the publicity and education work on nutrition labelling conducted in the past; if so, of the outcome; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) given that it was reported that the Centre for Food Safety had uncovered that, among some 240 food samples it tested earlier to verify nutrition information, one out of every eight pre-packaged food products had inaccurate information, of the details of the inaccuracies and breaches uncovered, together with a list of non-compliant food products, items on their labels with inaccurate information, the number of prosecutions instituted, and the rectifications made; and

(c) whether the authorities will increase the number of food samples to be inspected to verify nutrition information and step up efforts on enforcement and prosecution, so as to ensure that the public can choose food products according to accurate nutrition labels, thereby developing healthy eating habits?

Reply:

President,

(a) Since the passage of the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment: Requirements for Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition Claim) Regulation 2008 by the Legislative Council in mid-2008, the Government has employed various publicity and education means to enhance consumers' understanding of the benefits brought about by the Nutrition Labelling Scheme (the Scheme), with a view to building up a healthy diet.

     The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has launched a three-year Publicity and Education Campaign (the Campaign) in this respect since June 2008, implemented in three phases:

(1) to raise public awareness in Phase I (June 2008 íV July 2009);

(2) to enhance understanding of the Scheme in Phase II (August 2009 íV June 2010); and

(3) to motivate behavioural changes in Phase III (July 2010 íV June 2011).

     The CFS evaluates the Campaign by means of two large-scale surveys.  The first one was conducted at an early stage of the Campaign in mid-2008, called the "Survey on Public Knowledge, Attitude and Practice regarding Food Safety and Nutrition Labelling".  The findings revealed that:

(1) the majority of the public covered in the survey recognised the importance and benefits of nutrition labels;

(2) while they had developed some basic understanding of nutrients and nutrition labelling, there was still room for improvement; and

(3) more than half of them always read the nutrient label or usually read the nutrition label when they bought a prepackaged food product for the first time.  Among all nutrients, "trans fats" and "saturated fat" received the least attention.

     The above findings were released through a press conference.

     Since the legislation came into force on July 1, 2010, the Campaign has entered Phase III, which encourages the public to make reference to the nutrition labels when buying prepackaged food and make healthier food choices.  The CFS plans to conduct another survey in the second half of 2011 to evaluate the changes in public knowledge, attitude and practice regarding nutrition labelling.

     To sustain the efforts, the CFS plans to launch a two-year enhancement programme on nutrition labelling after the completion of the above three-year Campaign, focusing on motivating behavioural changes among the general public.

(b) Earlier on, the CFS tested 240 prepackaged food products to verify the accuracy of their nutrition labels and nutrient claims.  Test results revealed discrepancies between the actual nutrient content and that stated on the nutrition labels in 30 samples.  The 30 samples involved different categories of food, including beverages, snack, soya bean sauce, milk and dairy products, meat products, cereal and grain products, etc.  Among the samples in which discrepancies were found, four were related to total fat, seven to saturated fat, one to trans fat, four to sugars, one to protein, six to sodium, two to calcium and five to multiple nutrients.

     If the test result of a food sample shows discrepancy between the actual nutrient content and that stated on the nutrition label, the CFS will issue a letter to the retailer / manufacturer / importer concerned requiring an explanation within 21 days.  If the explanation is not accepted, a warning letter will be issued requiring actions to comply with the relevant statutory requirements within 60 days.  For traders who fail to rectify the irregularities within the 60 days, the CFS will initiate prosecution procedures against them.

     Among the concerned food products of the 30 samples, the laboratory data of two provided by the concerned manufacturer and importer respectively have been accepted by the CFS.  The nutrition label information of four products has been amended by the retailers / manufacturers / importers concerned while the sale of five has stopped.  In addition, warning letters in respect of nine products have been issued to the concerned retailers / manufacturers / importers for rectification.  As regards the remaining 10 products, replies from the concerned retailers / producers / importers are awaited and information already provided by them is being processed.  At this stage, no retailer / manufacturer / importer has been prosecuted.

(c) The CFS plans to check the food labels of 55,000 prepackaged food products in 2011 to ascertain that the labels contain information including food name, ingredients, information on the manufacturer or packer, expiry date and weight / volume, etc, as required by the law.  Among these products, around 5,000 will be checked to ascertain whether they carry nutrition labels that comply with the statutory requirements.  Among them, the nutrient content of 500 food samples will be analysed for verifying the accuracy of the nutrition labels and nutrition claims.  Items for analysis will include different nutrients such as carbohydrates, sugars, protein, total fat, trans fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, sodium, cholesterol and calcium, etc. to ensure that food products sold in Hong Kong comply with the statutory requirements so as to protect public health.

     The Scheme came into force on July 1, 2010.  Information on the arrangements for enforcement action by the CFS in the first year of the Scheme in cases where test results show discrepancies between the actual nutrient content and that stated on the nutrition labels has been provided in part (b) of the reply.  The CFS will step up enforcement and prosecution action in the future.

Ends/Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:56

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