Baby food health claims not backed by evidence

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am


Four baby-food products sold in the city bear health claims that are not supported by internationally recognised scientific evidence, a study by the consumer watchdog shows.

Consumers should read product labels carefully before buying, said the Consumer Council, which, with the Centre for Food Safety, examined 117 baby food labels.

'Food made with fresh ingredients is still the best for young children, but if parents have to get pre-packaged goods, it would be wise to check labels carefully,' Dr Teresa Choi Man-yan, principal medical officer at the centre, said yesterday.

The findings highlight a lack of regulation in baby food in the city, which has long fallen behind World Health Organisation standards.

A government-appointed taskforce is drafting a code of marketing to regulate promotional practices for breast-milk substitutes.

The code, due in the first half of next year, would provide advertising and nutrition-labelling guidelines for infant formula and baby food for children up to three years old, the Food and Health Bureau told lawmakers.

But it would be up to manufacturers and distributors to follow the code, the Legislative Council meeting heard.

In the study, Gerber Graduates for Toddlers Lil' Biscuits and Gerber Graduates Sweet Potato Puffs bear the line, 'vitamin E ... for natural immune support' on their labels. Choi said vitamin E had not been proven to be related to a better immune system.

Another product, Gerber Organic Sweet Peas, claims 'choline helps support ... eye development'. Choi said there were no studies to back this statement.

She said another claim that lacked scientific research concerned the HappyBellies Organic Multi-Grain Cereal made by HappyBaby. A label says probiotics help 'protect against the development of allergies'.

Probiotics simply meant micro-organisms, and the label did not specify which ones, she noted.

She said the government had started research on baby food labels. Labelling guidelines now in place do not cover food for three-year-olds. 'But if the labels present false or misleading information, producers are still liable to be prosecuted,' Choi said.