Chinese medicine off shelves as law bites
Elaine Yau and Martin Wong
Dozens of Chinese medicine products were taken off the shelves as a compulsory registration law took effect yesterday, with pharmacies complaining about a drastic reduction in choice for certain items.
Small pharmacies selling obscure brands were harder hit, including two shops that removed one-third of their Chinese medicine products from sale.
A Sunning Dispensary salesman in Wan Chai said several dozen lesser-known brands of ointment for arthritis and herbal tonics were gone.
'It will definitely affect our business in the long run,' he said.
'Many of the products allowed to be sold lack labels showing their registration number. Product agents have been busy coming to our shop to stick labels on each product. It's very troublesome.'
By October, 11,280 products were covered by temporary licences that allow them to be sold under the new law. Products approved for sale were given registration numbers beginning with 'HKP', 'HKNT' or 'HKC'.
However, a compulsory labelling law will not be in place until December 1 next year.
Leung Kai-chi, manager of the Chinese medicine section at Chinese emporium Sun Chung Luen in Tsuen Wan, said one-third of their more than 1,000 Chinese medicine products were taken off the shelves in the past year.
'Only big brands or manufacturers of products with a mass following can afford to conduct all the tests for registration,' he said. 'The accreditation standards are too stringent - even the mainland couldn't attain them.
'Concocting Chinese medicine is like cooking a dish. You can't ask for the exactitude required in tests on Western medicine. The small market in Hong Kong also makes a heavy investment in tests meaningless for small or medium-sized brands, which means that customers will have less choice.'
A product is deemed safe after it passes tests to meet requirements regarding heavy metals and toxicity, pesticide residue and microbial limits.
Cheung Ho-lun, manager of Sands Medicine shop in Wan Chai, said 60 products were taken off the shelves yesterday. 'Some products that failed to gain registration do not have substitutes,' he said.
'One example is a pill for regulating menstruation cycles, which is popular with mainland tourists. There were originally 10 brands on sale. Now there's just one on sale now.'
Applications for 5,400 products - about a third of some 16,700 products - on sale before yesterday were rejected.
Of the 11,280 temporarily licensed products, only nine have so far qualified for a full licence, which certifies that a product satisfies requirements in safety, quality and efficacy. All products will eventually need a full licence.
The Health Department said officers randomly inspected seven manufacturing companies of Chinese medicine products but did not find anything violating the compulsory registration law.
The department received no complaints yesterday over the sale of non-registered Chinese medicine products.
Under the law, anyone who has in their possession, sells or imports non-registered Chinese medicine is liable to a maximum fine of HK$100,000 or two years' jail.
A registration law is now in force for Chinese medicine products
Anyone selling non-registered medicine can be jailed for up to this many years: 2