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LCQ3: Trans fats

     Following is a question by the Hon Andrew Leung and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (July 8):


     Excessive intake of trans fats will increase the risk of coronary heart disease, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (PHVO) is the major source of artificial trans fats in processed foods.  The United States Food and Drug Administration decided last month that, except with its permission, no food manufacturers would be allowed to add PHVO to foods, subject to a transition period of three years.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the quantities and percentages of foods, beverages, food additives and flavourings currently available on the market that contain artificial trans fats; if it has compiled, of the details of such quantities and percentages in the last three years; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) whether it will, by making reference to the aforesaid practice in the United States, prohibit the import or sale of processed foods containing PHVO; if it will prohibit, of the timetable; if not, whether it will consider setting a ceiling on artificial trans fat content in various kinds of processed foods; and

(3) whether it will regulate the artificial trans fat content of powdered formula and prepackaged foods for infants and young children under the age of 36 months; if it will regulate, of the timetable; if not, the reasons for that?



     Trans fats can raise the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (also called the "bad" cholesterol) of our body, while at the same time lower the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (also called the "good" cholesterol), thus increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, which is the third killer in Hong Kong.

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

(1) To understand the trans fat content of food available on the local market, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) conducted four risk assessment studies on trans fat content in food during the period from 2007 to 2012, including studies conducted jointly with the Consumer Council.  The types of food assessed included bakery products (e.g. bread, cakes and cookies), deep fried food (e.g. French fries, fried chicken and fried fritters) and margarine/margarine-like spreads.  For details, please refer to the study reports available on the CFS website.

     After years of efforts in encouraging and assisting the trade in producing food products with lower fat content as well as public education and publicity, the CFS found that, as shown in the comparison of results of the study conducted in 2012 with previous ones, there had been an apparent declining trend in the mean trans fat content in food samples, reflecting the positive effect of the trade's effort in reducing trans fat level in their products. Examples are a reduction of 64% of mean trans fat content in bread, 42% in egg tart/ pie/ pastry and 27% in cake.

     It was also noted that the trans fat content in some individual samples had reduced dramatically whilst their saturated fat content stayed unchanged, suggesting it is practicable for the trade to reduce trans fats in food without raising saturated fat to compensate.

(2) The Government has been keeping a close eye on the international developments in regulating trans fats and results of the latest studies in this area.  The United States Food and Drug Administration has recently announced that starting June 18, 2018, Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of trans fats, will be subject to regulation as food additives and cannot be used in food unless an application is made and approval granted.  In general, food industry in the United States should submit along with their applications to use PHOs sufficient scientific evidence to substantiate that their specific uses of PHOs would be safe.  This regulatory initiative is targeting artificial trans fats.  Trans fats found naturally in the fats and dairy products (e.g. milk, butter, cheese and cream) of cattle and sheep are not covered.

     In response to the local and international health concern over trans fats in food, the CFS produced the Trade Guidelines on Reducing Trans Fats in Food as early as 2008 for the reference of the food trade.  This has contributed much to lowering trans fatty acid content in local food.

     As far as we know, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) jointly set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization has not recommended that PHOs be regulated as food additives.  The Government will examine from time to time the need to regulate the use of PHOs, in the light of the latest international developments, including the regulatory approaches and recommendations of other countries/regions.  Meanwhile, we will continue to work with the trade to further lower trans fat content in food to safeguard food safety and public health.

(3) The Legislative Council passed the Food and Drugs (Composition and Labelling) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulation 2014 (the Amendment Regulation) in 2014.  The Amendment Regulation comprises requirements on nutritional composition of infant formulae and nutrition labelling of infant formulae, follow-up formulae and prepackaged food for infants and young children.  It mandates that infant formulae must contain energy and 33 nutrients in accordance with the Codex standards.  The energy value and content of each nutrient must fall within the range specified in the relevant Codex standards.  Using the Codex standards as reference, the Amendment Regulation also mandates that certain nutrients, including trans fatty acids, must comply with the relevant proportion requirements.  The amount of trans fatty acids must not exceed 3% of the total content of fatty acids.  These requirements for infant formulae will come into force starting December 13 this year.

     At present, Codex has not imposed any requirements on the trans fatty acid content of follow-up formulae and prepackaged food for infants and young children. The Government at present does not propose to impose nutritional composition requirement on follow-up formulae and prepackaged food for infants and young children. We will continue to closely monitor the latest international developments regarding regulation of trans fats in relevant products.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Issued at HKT 16:59


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