Health and wellness

Hong Kong warns manufacturers not to lie on new labels that promote healthy food

Using a label on food that does not meet the official standards could lead to fine or prison – despite the companies not needing approval to use the labels

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 October, 2017, 10:18am

The Hong Kong government launched a new set of healthy food labels on Friday that came with a warning for manufacturers: misrepresenting your product is a crime.

The warning coincided with the launch of voluntary labels that indicate if a food has low levels of sugar or salt. Using a label on food that does not meet the official standards could lead to fine or prison – despite the companies not needing approval to use the labels.

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“If the information is displayed dishonestly, it is illegal. I believe importers and manufacturers have to be careful in using the labels,” said Bernard Chan, chairman of the Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food, one of the government groups behind the labelling scheme.

While food manufacturers only need to notify the Centre for Food Safety to use the labels, they have to ensure level of nutrients meet the legal requirements before making the claims.

The labels will indicate whether pre-packaged food is considered “low salt”, “no salt”, “low sugar” and “no sugar”.

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According to city regulations, a “low salt” label can be used if a food contains not more than 0.12 grams of sodium per 100g or millilitres, or “no salt” if there is less than 0.005g of sodium.

For a “low sugar” label, the food contains not more than 5g of sugar per 100g or millilitre, or claim to be “no sugar” when carrying less than 0.5g of sugar.

Any false description of food substance could lead to a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,400) and six months in jail.

Chan estimated there are about 100 types of pre-packaged food that meet the requirements for the new labels.

He said the labelling scheme would be helpful to health-conscious people who try to make healthier food choices.

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“People might be more concerned in choosing food products after passing a certain age,” said Chan, adding the labelling scheme could also benefit sales as it could increase product credibility.

Chan expected the first batch of products bearing those labels in markets in few months.

Florence Yu Wan-yin, public affairs director from Coca-Cola Hong Kong, said currently 37 per cent of their products contain low or no sugar. They aim to incorporate the newly launched labels on those products in the first quarter next year.

The labels are available in Chinese, English or bilingual versions. The designs were adopted from a set of entries in a public competition.