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LCQ12: Breastmilk substitutes

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Joseph Lee and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (June 22):


     According to available information, the percentage of babies exclusively breastfed for four to six months in Hong Kong is only 12.7%; in other words, breastmilk substitutes (e.g. milk powder and rice cereal) have become the staple food for most babies, and their ingredients, quality and safety directly affect babies' health and growth; at present, there are quite a number of milk powder products which are commonly known as "parallel-imported" products or not imported through dealers in Hong Kong and from unknown sources for sale in the market, and some advertisements are suspected to be exaggerating the components of milk powder and there is no assurance of their quality.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it will formulate regulations on breastmilk substitutes for babies of 0 to 6 months to comprehensively regulate the manufacturing process, amount of supply, marketing practices and promotional tactics of all breastmilk substitutes for sale in Hong Kong; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;  

(b) given that the Government has indicated that it is drawing up a Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes applicable to Hong Kong (the Code) to regulate the marketing practices of manufacturers and distributors of breastmilk substitutes, of the detailed scope of the Code; whether all breastmilk substitutes for sale in Hong Kong are covered; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) apart from the Code, whether the Government has any measure in place to ensure that members of the public have sufficient information in choosing suitable breastmilk substitutes;

(d) whether the nature of the Code is only for voluntary compliance by the trade; if so, what measures the Government has to ensure that all manufacturers and distributors of breastmilk substitutes comply with the Code, and when formulating the measures, whether it has assessed their effectiveness; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(e) given that the Code involves stakeholders of different sectors, whether the Government has conducted thorough consultation on it, and has held discussions with various stakeholders, including manufacturers and distributors of breastmilk substitutes; if it has, of the details including the timetable; if not, the reasons for that?



(a) Currently, the manufacturing process of breastmilk substitutes, like that of other food, is subject to regulation under existing legislation.  If breastmilk substitutes such as infant formula are manufactured in Hong Kong, their manufacturing process must be carried out under a food factory licence in accordance with Section 31 of the Food Business Regulation (Cap. 132X).  As for the manufacture of milk products (including liquid breastmilk substitutes) in Hong Kong, a milk factory licence is required under the Milk Regulation (Cap. 132AQ).

     We have been proactively liaising closely with milk powder suppliers, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy and major retailers, and given assurance by the suppliers that they have sufficient stock, and that they would increase supply to cope with the growing market demand.

     The major milk powder suppliers have all agreed that meeting the needs of local babies and infants is their prime responsibility, and they have been closely monitoring the market situation.  If necessary, arrangements will be made for increasing supply in Hong Kong to ensure a stable supply of milk powder in the local market.  The major brands have already set up hotlines or purchase and delivery services to ensure that the needs of local babies and infants are met.  Individual suppliers have also pointed out that there has been an upward trend in requests for purchase and delivery services from their members, which shows that the public has got used to purchasing milk powder under the membership system.

     In addition, some retail outlets have set sale quota according to their actual need for certain brands of milk powder in order to cater for the demand of local citizens.

     We consider that the existing measures have helped stabilise the supply of milk powder.  We will continue to keep close liaison with the Consumer Council, and major suppliers, importers and retailers of milk powder to jointly ensure the stable supply of milk powder in the local market.

     On advertising and marketing practices, basic requirements have been set out under the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes promulgated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1981.  WHO also updated these requirements and enhanced the relevant regulation by way of resolution at its subsequent World Health Assembly (WHA) held once every one to two years in light of scientific and market developments.  At the 63rd WHA held in 2010, WHO urged its member states to end all forms of inappropriate promotion of foods for infants and young children (i.e. those who are 0-3 years old).  At present, we mainly rely on milk powder manufacturers and distributors in Hong Kong to exercise self-discipline in compliance with the WHO Code and requirements in the relevant WHA resolutions in monitoring their marketing practices.  Where non-compliance of the WHO Code was noted, the Department of Health (DH) would issue warning letters to the manufacturers involved.

(b) To further regulate the advertising and marketing of breastmilk substitutes, DH has set up a Taskforce on Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes at the end of June 2010, which is tasked to develop a Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes applicable to Hong Kong (the Hong Kong Code).  The objective of the Hong Kong Code is to regulate manufacturers and distributors of breastmilk substitutes and related products to prohibit them from advertising and marketing their breastmilk substitutes and related products by way of malpractice.  The Administration will work out the details and coverage of the Hong Kong Code having regard to the details and scope of regulation recommended in the WHO Code and the WHA resolutions.

(c) At present, DH has been making use of different channels including meetings between healthcare professionals and parents as well as workshops to provide parents with correct information about diets and nutrition for infants and young children, and to give advice to parents on choosing the appropriate breastmilk substitutes and related products.  To enhance parents' understanding on diet for infants and young children, DH plans to produce a parenting education kit on healthy diet for infants and young children, which will include a handbook, education VCDs and recipes, etc.

(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 practices if appropriate monitoring and sanction mechanisms are put in place in tandem with implementation of the Code.  After the Hong Kong Code has been put into implementation, 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.

(e) The Taskforce on Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes responsible for developing the Hong Kong Code is comprised of members from different sectors of the community, including representatives from the Hospital Authority, Consumer Council, specialist groups, academia, non-governmental organisations, and other major local partners.  DH has earlier met major local milk powder suppliers to listen to their views on the Hong Kong Code.  It is expected that the drafting of the Hong Kong Code will be completed by the end of 2011.  Upon completion of the drafting of the Hong Kong Code, DH will consult the trade and collect the views of various parties.  It is expected that the Hong Kong Code will be put into implementation within 2012.

Ends/Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:31


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