Baby formula

Infant formula in Hong Kong must carry important information on packaging

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 January, 2018, 3:29pm

I refer to the report, “Salmonella fear prompts huge recall of baby milk”, (December 22).

It is sad that once again we need a serious adverse event to bring home to us why, as far back as 2005, the World Health Organisation was asking for baby milk manufacturers to put on packages of their products a warning that powdered infant formula may contain pathogenic microorganisms and that the milk needs to be prepared appropriately.

The Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants and Young Children (Hong Kong Code) was launched in June. It wants labels on infant formula made for babies under six months to carry the advice that “powdered formula is not a sterile product” and that it should be prepared “using boiled water allowed to cool down to no less than 70 degrees Celsius”. Unfortunately, the code is voluntary. Few infant formulas sold in the Hong Kong market adhere to this requirement. It is a matter of urgency that this is made mandatory. As the current recall involves products for infants older than six months, the Hong Kong Code requirement which only applies to formula milk for use for babies up to six months ought to be reviewed.

The government wanted to encourage good practice voluntarily and did not want to introduce a code that was enforced by legislation. Over the past six months, we have seen how formula milk companies are using cross branding to bypass the Hong Kong Code that covers formula milk for those under 36 months of age. The label for formula milk for aged three years and above looks almost exactly like those for under 36 months. Also, gifts are widely used to enhance sales of products covered by the code. Furthermore, nutrition and health claims are not covered by the code.

We urge the government to wait no longer to observe the effects of the voluntary Hong Kong Code but move to comprehensive legislation with a mandatory code.

Meanwhile, there needs to be a much stronger public health message that follow-on/growing-up milk is not necessary. Infants not breastfeeding can be given infant formula when under 12 months and ordinary cow’s milk for adult use after that.

Patricia Ip, vice-chairperson, Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hong Kong Association