Parallel trading

Apology to 12 cross-border travellers over mistaken milk powder arrests

Government will consider clarifying legal definition of infant formula after mix-up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 March, 2013, 4:50am

A lawmaker has attacked the government for refusing to say which infant milk formulas are restricted from being taken out of Hong Kong.

The criticism came after Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man apologised yesterday to 12 mainlanders carrying rice-based baby cereal, who were mistakenly arrested at the border.

Customs officers arrested the 12 for flouting the new rule that allows adults to carry only two tins, or 1.8kg, of milk formula out of Hong Kong. But it was later discovered that the baby cereal was not a restricted product.

Ko said they would not be charged and the government would look into whether it needed to clarify the legal definition of infant formula. "There were mistakes. So I apologise to those who were affected," he said.

Under the new law, infant formula means a substance in powder form that "is or appears to be for consumption by a person aged under 36 months" and "is or appears to be milk or a milk-like substance". Asked if the government would disclose a list of restricted milk powders, Ko initially said it would be considered.

But later, his bureau said in a written reply that the list was used for law enforcement purposes and it would not be appropriate to disclose it.

Lawmaker James To Kun-sun said he was not surprised the government did not want to disclose the list as it would show its "ugly" way of operating.

"The law is broad, but officers were given a list to narrow down enforcement. It's against the law," he said.

The law is broad, but officers were given a list to narrow down enforcement. It's against the law
Lawmaker James To Kun-sun

A customs spokeswoman said it had contacted all 12 arrested to arrange for the return of their bail money and confiscated items.

The Association of Customs and Excise Service Officers said the officers who made the arrests were just trying to do their job.

But one officer, who did not want to be identified, said morale among frontline staff had been affected.

"The government said we were wrong just because of some complaints. It will be tough for us to enforce the law now."