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LC: CS responds to Report No. 57 of Public Accounts Committee

      Following is the speech (translated from Chinese) by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Stephen Lam, in response to Report No. 57 of the Public Accounts Committee in the Legislative Council today (May 16):


     Laid on the table today is the Government Minute (GM) responding to Report No. 57 of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

     When presenting Report No. 57 on February 15 to the Legislative Council, the Chairman of PAC gave comments on two chapters in the Director of Audit's Reports, viz. Food labelling and nutrition labelling of infant and special dietary foods and Water losses from unauthorised consumption and inaccurate metering.

     We are grateful for the time and efforts that the PAC has devoted to investigate these topics.  We accept the Committee's various recommendations and have set out the Administration's specific responses in the GM.  Today, I would like to highlight the key measures that we have taken in the relevant areas and the progress.  

Food labelling and nutrition labelling of infant and special dietary foods

     The Administration welcomes the recommendations made by the Audit Commission and PAC on food labelling and nutrition labelling of infant and special dietary foods.

     Following the publication of the Audit Commission and PAC reports, the Food and Health Bureau, the Department of Health (DH), and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) have implemented a number of measures to address the concerns raised.

     We are developing a Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (Hong Kong Code), which is expected to be launched for consultation with the trade and stakeholders in mid-2012.  The objective of the Hong Kong Code is to provide guidelines to manufacturers and distributors of breast-milk substitutes and related products to prevent malpractices in advertising and marketing breast-milk substitutes and related products.

     When formulating the details and coverage of the Hong Kong Code, the Taskforce on the Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes makes reference to the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes of World Health Organization promulgated in 1981 and the subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions, and takes into account the local advertising and marketing practices of manufacturers and distributors of the relevant products.  It will also cover other requirements on breast-milk substitutes and related products, such as nutrition labelling, claims and nutritional composition.  The Administration has reported the progress of the development of the Hong Kong Code to the Legislative Council (LegCo) Panel on Health Services at its meeting on April 16, 2012.

     It is expected that the drafting of the Hong Kong Code will be completed in mid-2012 and will be implemented after consultation with the trade and stakeholders.  The Hong Kong Code would be implemented in the form of voluntary guidelines in tandem with an appropriate monitoring mechanism.  DH and the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of FEHD will work closely to monitor the trade's adherence to the Hong Kong Code.  CFS will also conduct testing on the nutritional composition of infant formulae available in the market in 2012 and in 2013.

     Depending on the response of the trade to the Hong Kong Code, the Administration will consider the need for stepping up regulation by way of enacting specific legislation governing nutritional composition, nutrition labelling and claims of infant foods and report our views to the relevant LegCo Panel and PAC.

     As regards special dietary foods, CFS will study the current situation regarding labelling of these foods and make recommendations on whether such products need regulation and, if so, the priority to be accorded to them.

     On enforcement of food labelling, CFS has adopted the recommendations of the PAC Report and will continue to adopt a risk-based enforcement approach to target at high-risk retail outlets and, since March 2012, to announce products with unsatisfactory compliance testing results on a regular basis.  To improve the trade's compliance with the legibility requirements on food labels, CFS is working closely with the trade to prepare the "Trade Guidelines on Preparation of Legible Food Label", which are expected to be finalised and issued in May 2012.

     As for the regulation of health claims and nutrition claims, the Undesirable Medical Advertisements (Amendment) Ordinance will be brought into operation on June 1, 2012.  It provides that health food products carrying medical claims but not registered under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance (Cap. 138) or the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549) must carry an additional disclaimer indicating so.

     CFS has also enhanced its internal guidelines on surveillance and law enforcement.  Complaints related to nutrition and health claims of food will be followed up and considered for prosecution if there is sufficient evidence.  The enforcement strategy will be adjusted from time to time in the light of operational experience.

     CFS will continue to sustain its publicity and public education efforts in collaboration with the education sector and community organisations to reach out to different target groups in promoting the use of nutrition information on labels to select food suitable for them.

Water losses from unauthorised consumption and inaccurate metering

     The Administration accepts the recommendations made by the Audit Commission and PAC on the management of the apparent water losses from unauthorised consumption and inaccurate metering.  In general, the recommendations are in line with the new initiatives being pursued by the Water Supplies Department (WSD) to enhance its management of water losses.

     To deal with unauthorised consumption, WSD adopts a two-pronged approach: (i) detection and prosecution and (ii) promotion and education.  The Department started to use a risk-based approach in 2011 for detecting unlawful taking of water and it will explore the use of data mining techniques for identifying unauthorised uses.  The Department is also collaborating with different sectors of the community to widen the detection webs for unlawful taking of water.  WSD has issued letters to all property management companies to advise them of the dire consequences of unlawful taking of water.  WSD has also secured the co-operation of plumbing associations, institutions and trade unions; consultants and contractors associations; and resident site staff association in preventing unlawful taking of water.  In this connection, nine participating organisations have signed a charter in March 2012 pledging their support.

     WSD has liaised with various government departments to solicit their assistance in preventing and deterring unauthorised water uses by reporting promptly any suspected unlawful water taking activities within their premises and works sites.  WSD will provide training to the staff of these departments on detecting and reporting unlawful water taking activities.  In addition, WSD has adopted the practice of informing the government departments concerned on conviction cases of unlawful water taking within their premises and works sites so that they can take appropriate actions to deter such unlawful act.

     For meter accuracy, WSD has all along placed great emphasis on water meter management, adopting the international best practice of regular meter replacement to enhance the accuracy of its meter fleet.  The Department started a catch-up replacement programme for the 15-mm meters in 2006, and so far nearly 1.5 million aged meters have been replaced.  The Department will continue to arrange for the replacement of aged meters.

     Finally, I would like to thank PAC once again for its constructive comments and recommendations.  The Administration will, as always, respond positively and implement necessary improvements earnestly.  Thank you.

Ends/Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:04


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