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Public consultation on nutrition and health claims on formula products and prepackaged foods for infants and young children under the age of 36 months
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     The Government today (January 6) released a consultation document proposing a regulatory framework to enhance the regulation of nutrition and health claims on infant formula, follow-up formula and prepackaged foods for infants and young children under the age of 36 months in Hong Kong through legislation to safeguard the health of infants and young children. The consultation exercise will last for more than three months until April 17.

     Speaking at a press conference on the consultation document today, the Under Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, said that for infants and young children, nutrition is essential for their growth, tissue repair and maintenance of good health. The superiority of breastfeeding in ensuring physical and psychosocial health and wellbeing of mother and child, as well as the important impacts of early nutrition on long-term health of the child are widely recognised.     

     "It is hence of paramount importance to prevent practices which would discourage breastfeeding, and to ensure that parents are provided with accurate and appropriate information on formula products (i.e. infant formula and follow-up formula for infants and young children) and prepackaged foods for infants and young children under the age of 36 months (IYC foods) to facilitate informed choice.

     "Nutrition and health claims are commonly found in formula products, and to a lesser extent in IYC foods. Factually correct food labels and claims can provide consumers with useful information to arrive at informed choices. In contrast, incorrect or misleading nutrition and health claims on formula products and IYC foods may cause undue influence on the decisions of parents and caregivers on whether to breastfeed, and may in turn adversely impact on their children's health.

     "There are voices in the community that the Government should enhance the regulation of nutrition and health claims on formula products and IYC foods by way of legislation to prevent these claims from bearing undue influence on the decisions of mothers on whether to breastfeed. From the angle of food safety, we also do not want parents and caregivers to choose these food products for their children based on dubious nutrition or health claims, which may in turn adversely affect the health of infants and young children," Professor Chan said.

     As such, the Government proposes to establish a regulatory framework to enhance the regulation of nutrition and health claims on formula products and IYC foods. The purposes of the proposed regulatory framework are:

* to better protect the health of infants and young children under the age of 36 months; and

* to facilitate effective regulatory control over nutrition and health claims on formula products and IYC foods.

     The nutrition and health claims proposed to be regulated include:

* Nutrient content claim: a nutrition claim that describes the level of a nutrient contained in a food (e.g. "contains choline (144mg / 100g)");

* Nutrient comparative claim: a nutrition claim which compares the nutrient levels and/or energy value of two or more foods (e.g. "increased DHA level by 3 times (compared to its original formula)");

* Nutrient function claim: a health claim which describes the physiological role of the nutrient in growth, development and normal functions of the body (e.g. "phospholipids (PhD) are essential for the function of brain cells");

* Other function claim: a health claim which concerns specific beneficial effects of the consumption of foods or their constituents, in the context of the total diet, on normal functions or biological activities of the body. Such claims relate to a positive contribution to health or to the improvement of a function or to modifying or preserving health (e.g. "probiotics helps to maintain a healthy digestive system"); and

* Reduction of disease risk claims: a health claim which relates the consumption of a food or food constituent, in the context of the total diet, to the reduced risk of developing a disease or health-related condition (e.g. "fortified with an appropriate level of iron to reduce the risk of anaemia").   

     The Government has come up with five overarching principles as follows:

* Nutrition claims (i.e. nutrient content claims and nutrient comparative claims) should be prohibited in infant formula;

* Reduction of disease risk claims should be prohibited in formula products and IYC foods;

* Nutrition claims (i.e. nutrient content claims and nutrient comparative claims) and nutrient function claims should be permitted in IYC foods;

* Nutrients or constituents permitted to be the subjects of claims should be of high importance to the health of infants and young children; and

* Nutrition and health claims should meet specific content conditions and health claims should be scientifically substantiated and have undergone credible evaluation process.

     According to the first three principles, certain claims on certain formula products or IYC foods will be allowed while some others will be prohibited. Together they would set the boundary for the regulatory framework. Within this boundary, the regulatory options for some product-claim combinations are open for discussion, namely:

* Nutrient function claim on infant formula;

* Nutrition claim (i.e. nutrient content claim and nutrient comparative claim) and nutrient function claim on follow-up formula; and

* Other function claim on formula products and IYC foods.

     The Government has proposed in the consultation document regulatory options for various product-claim combinations for consideration, including adopting an inclusive approach (whereby all of the above claims would be allowed), restrictive approach (whereby all of the above claims would be prohibited), or taking the middle ground in allowing some claims but prohibiting others. The annex summarises the different scenarios under the inclusive and restrictive approaches.

     The Government also proposes to develop a mechanism for establishing and revising a list of approved claims with a view to providing clear guidance for the trade to make nutrition and health claims on the relevant products legally. A grace period will also be provided to allow time for the trade to reformulate their products, modify their packaging, or refine their marketing strategy as necessary, to comply with the new requirements.  

     In addition, the proposed regulatory framework will govern not only the nutrition and health claims made on the labelling or packaging of formula products and IYC foods, but also those claims in the advertisements relating to these products.

     Details of the proposed regulatory framework are set out in the consultation document which can be downloaded from the website of the Food and Health Bureau (www.fhb.gov.hk) or the Centre for Food Safety of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (www.cfs.gov.hk), or obtained from the following locations:

* Communication Resource Unit of the Centre for Food Safety
(at 8/F, Fa Yuen Street Municipal Services Building, 123A Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon);

* District Offices of the Home Affairs Department; and

* District Environmental Hygiene Offices of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
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The public can send their views on or before April 17, 2015 by email (claims_consultation@fehd.gov.hk), letter (Risk Assessment Section, Centre for Food Safety, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, 43/F, Queensway Government Offices, 66 Queensway, Hong Kong) , or fax (28933547).

Ends/Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Issued at HKT 21:08

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