LCQ17: Bisphenol A in food containers

     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 (December 14):


     An earlier study conducted by the Harvard University in the United States found that the urinary Bisphenol A (BPA) level in people who consumed canned soup was 20-fold higher than that in people who consumed fresh soup. The academic leading the study pointed out that in order to prevent metallic substances (e.g. stannum) in food cans from leaching into the food inside the cans, manufacturers add BPA in the interior coating of cans, resulting in indirect human intake of BPA. Although the aforesaid study has not assessed the potential health risks of BPA intake, past studies have found that BPA may suppress male sex hormones, resulting in indistinct sexual characteristics. In addition, other studies have found that BPA may cause cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity and cancer. At present, the United Kingdom (UK) has enacted legislation to stipulate that stannum and BPA in canned food containers cannot affect the quality of food.  Canada, Australia and the European Union have also banned the use of BPA or encouraged the industry to stop using BPA to produce baby bottles. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) what safety regulations the authorities have imposed on food cans or other food containers (particularly to avoid the materials used for making food containers and the chemicals therein from polluting the food inside the cans or containers and affecting the health of consumers) at present; how the relevant ordinances and regulations in Hong Kong compare with those in other advanced countries; and

(b) whether the authorities will draw reference from the practices adopted in the aforesaid countries and take preventive measures to ban the sale of any baby bottle made from BPA in the market, and whether they will draw reference from the aforesaid study and the practices in countries such as UK, etc. to formulate safety standard for the materials used for canned food containers, so as to stipulate that substances such as stannum and BPA, etc. contained in food cans cannot pollute the food inside the cans; if not, of the reasons for that?



     Bisphenol A (BPA) is a widely used industrial chemical. As an ingredient of food contact materials, it can be used in polycarbonate (PC) baby bottles and water bottles, and epoxy resin coatings in can linings.

     BPA has low acute toxicity and does not cause cancer. Some studies on experimental animals suggested that low dose of BPA may have adverse effects on the animals' nervous system, behaviour during the developmental period and reproductive system. However, other studies indicated no such effect.

     Local and overseas data showed that the migration levels of BPA from PC baby bottles were very low or even not detectable. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has been closely watching the relevant scientific researches and risk assessments at the international level. The current dietary exposures to BPA in humans are well below the safety reference dose.

     In November 2010, an international panel of experts established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations held a meeting to assess the safety of BPA. The meeting considered that, based on current knowledge of BPA, it was premature to use study results of low dose of BPA on experimental animals to realistically assess the human health risk. CFS will closely monitor the international development on latest risk assessment work.

     My reply to different parts of the question is detailed as follows:

(a) Section 54 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) provides that all food intended for human consumption for sale in Hong Kong, whether imported or locally produced, must be fit for human consumption. In addition, the food must also comply with regulations concerning food safety and food standards made under the above Ordinance. If any food is assessed to be hazardous to health, CFS will take vigorous follow-up action, including research and testing, to ensure food safety.

     The current regulatory control on tin (stannum) levels in food in Hong Kong is comparable to the standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex standards). CFS is reviewing the local standards, with a view to harmonising with Codex standards. While there is no regulatory control on BPA in food in Hong Kong at present, CFS will keep in view the latest international development in this aspect.

     In addition, the safety of general consumer goods for sale in Hong Kong, which includes baby bottles and food containers generally available on the market, is regulated under the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance (Cap. 456). It is an offence for any person to import, manufacture or supply consumer goods unless they comply with "the general safety requirement". Generally speaking, if the goods can meet overseas or international safety standards (such as the standards of the Mainland, the United States, the European Union (EU), Australia or Japan), they will be considered as meeting the requirements under this Ordinance. The Customs and Excise Department (the C&ED) is responsible for the enforcement of this Ordinance.

     In the case of baby bottles and food containers generally available on the market, the testing standards adopted by C&ED draws reference mainly to the European Standard established by the European Committee for Standardisation, i.e. BS EN 14350-2:2004 "Child use and care articles - Drinking equipment - Part 2: Chemical requirements and tests". The maximum acceptable level of BPA migration specified by this standard is 0.03 g/ml. Over the past three years (from January 2009 to October 2011), all samples of plastic baby bottles, water bottles and food containers drawn by the C&ED from the market for safety testing by the Government Laboratory were found to comply with the above standard.

(b) Canada and the EU banned BPA in baby bottles in March 2010 and June 2011 respectively. CFS consulted the Expert Committee on Food Safety (Expert Committee) regarding BPA in January and December 2011.  The Expert Committee agreed to the above conclusion made by the international panel of experts established by WHO and FAO that it was premature to use study results of low dose of BPA on experimental animals to realistically assess the human health risk. CFS will continue to closely monitor the international development on latest risk assessment work. Meanwhile, CFS will update the trade on latest information on overseas regulatory control of BPA and advise the public on the proper use of food containers to minimise the risk of chemical contaminants migrating from food containers. Recommendations include using containers according to product instructions; not pouring boiling water or liquid at high temperature into plastic milk bottles and containers; and not using plastic tableware to hold hot oil, deep-fried food or highly acidic foods. In addition, to further reduce the migration of BPA from the can in the case of canned foods, CFS advises the public to take the food out from the can for heating; not to use empty cans for cooking; and not to store leftover food in opened cans.

     Regarding the regulation of tin in food, Schedule 2 of the Food Adulteration (Metallic Contamination) Regulations (Cap. 132V) stipulates that the maximum level of tin in certain specified foods is 230 parts per million. Through its routine surveillance programme, CFS takes food samples at import, wholesale and retail levels for testing of tin in food. Since 2010, no food sample has been found with unsatisfactory level of tin.

Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Issued at HKT 13:10