Another milk formula brand fails iodine test
Emily Tsang, Michael Au and Kristie Wong
Another Japanese baby milk brand, Meiji, has been found to contain too little of the nutrient iodine, the Centre for Food Safety said yesterday.
Four samples of baby formula failed to meet World Health Organisation standards in tests by the centre: one under the Meiji brand, two from Morinaga and another from Wakodo. Other products produced under the latter two brands were revealed on Wednesday to be deficient in iodine.
A lack of iodine can harm the development of the thyroid gland and affect brain function. The centre urged parents not to feed their babies formula from the three brands.
Babies fed on the Morinaga and Wakodo brands started having blood tests to check their thyroid function yesterday at the city's 10 Maternal and Child Health Centres.
Nearly 100 babies have been signed up for the tests.
While the risk of brain damage due to iodine deficiency is low, many parents queuing for blood tests at the Sai Wan Ho health centre said they had stopped feeding their babies formula from Wakodo and Morinaga.
'I'm not sure which one I'm going to use now, but it's definitely not going to be a Japanese brand,' one parent said. One Japanese mother who has lived in Hong Kong for three years said she started using Wakodo because her friends were using it.
'I only found out two days ago from watching the news that Wakodo was not good enough for my son,' she said as she signed up to have her month-old child tested.
A father, Benny Wong, criticised doctors at the centre as 'inexperienced and unprofessional', claiming it took them five minutes to find a blood vessel in his seven-month-old son's leg and they had to take three different samples.
The government is offering tests only for babies aged up to eight months, saying the risk for older children is small. But lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming said the government should extend the tests.
Li met health minister Dr Ko Wing-man yesterday to push for legislation to close loopholes which exempt infant formula from nutritional labelling rules.
He said: 'The government has been promising to review the need to pass a law for baby food since 2005, but the plan still failed to materialise.'
The Centre for Food Safety said all Japanese formula for infants up to six months that were available locally had been tested for iodine.
Japanese brands had a 24.7 per cent share of the infant formula market before the earthquake and tsunami last year, which crippled a nuclear power plant and led to radiation leaks that prompted many Hongkongers to avoid Japanese goods for a time.
Paediatrician Yu Chak-man said most Japanese formula brands did not comply with the WHO standard because Japanese babies may receive more iodine from other sources.
Most Japanese formula sold in Hong Kong is imported on the grey market - by legal distributors, though not approved by the manufacturer.
Dr Hon Kam-lun, professor of paediatrics at Chinese University, said: 'It may be a good time to educate parents not to buy infant formula in the grey market ... and [with instructions that] are written in languages unknown to them.'