Baby milk legislation to be speeded up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:15pm


The government will speed up legislation to close loopholes that exempt baby food from nutrition-labelling rules in the wake of tests that showed two brands of Japanese baby formula lacked a nutrient vital to brain development.

But it has not set a timetable for the new rules, despite concern over Centre for Food Safety tests that showed two Japanese milk formula brands on sale in the city for years lacked iodine.

The results sparked a crisis of confidence in milk formula and calls from a mothers' group for the authorities to close loopholes in the labelling rules that came into force in 2010 that exempt food intended for children under three.

Dr Lee Siu-yuen, the associate director for food surveillance and control at the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, told an RTHK radio programme yesterday that the government was preparing legislation but refused to set a timescale.

'In light of this incident, the government will draw up the nutritional composition and labelling of infant formula [regulations] as soon as possible,' she said.

There are about 40 infant formula brands encompassing about 60 products on sale in the city, according to the centre. Previously, they had only been tested for contamination, not nutritional content.

Lee said it would take time for the government to formulate guidelines as it would have to take into account various factors, including the eating habits of local women, recommendations from experts and the viability of the industry.

The results of further tests for iodine on other infant formula products were expected soon, Lee said.

Lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming condemned the government for failing to act earlier.

He said he would meet health minister Dr Ko Wing-man today to express his concern.

'I have been demanding that the government set up a code of practice or legislate on the matter for many years,' Li said. 'The inaction of the government should be blamed for the incident.'

A local mothers' group, the Breastfeeding Mothers' Association, said regulations should be implemented as soon as possible.

In an unprecedented move, the centre is offering free blood tests on babies up to eight months old who have been fed with the two affected brands to see if they are suffering from an iodine deficiency.

Lee said it was not necessary to extend the test to those older than eight months as the health risks for them were very low.

The study of 14 brands found that the iodine level in Wakodo and Morinaga infant formula fell below World Health Organisation standards.

Wakodo and Morinaga yesterday said their formulas had been recognised by the Japanese authorities and that there were different standards in different countries.