Hong Kong’s vegetarian “meat” might not be as healthy and nutritious as manufacturers claim, with one sample found to contain animal genes, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warned on Thursday. The Consumer Council examined 35 samples of pre-packaged vegetarian meat, saying all failed to fully comply with the technical guidance of the Centre for Food Safety requirements on nutrition labelling. Releasing the findings, the watchdog said four samples found to contain animal genes or animal-derived ingredients were inaccurately labelled. Fish and pig genes were detected in vegetarian fishballs sold under the Saturday brand, manufactured in Taiwan, despite the product being labelled as “ovo-lacto” – containing dairy and egg ingredients. Three other products, which claimed to be “lacto”– with dairy elements – also contained traces of egg. The council’s publicity and community relations committee chairman Clement Chan Kam-wing said the reasons could be manufacturers had used animal-derived condiments or ingredients, or egg white as a binding agent. The production line being contaminated by the materials in question could also be a factor. “The council stressed that food producers have the responsibility to ensure vegetarian meat products do not contain ingredients from animal genes or animal sources,” he said. The watchdog added incorrect labelling might mislead consumers and the disparity between the declared qualities and actual ones in products could be a contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance. Under the ordinance, any trader who applies a false or misleading trade description to a service or product using aggressive commercial practices or bait advertising is liable to a maximum fine of HK$500,000 (US$63,727) and up to five years in prison. In a reply to the council, the agent for Saturday said the product in question was made in a factory that also processed meat. Even though the manufacturer did not add meat ingredients to the fishball product, it could not guarantee that in the shared facility the product would not get contaminated during production. The agent also said the product’s label told consumers that part of the manufacturing process was conducted in regular food factories, using the words “if there is any doubt, consumption is not recommended”. Bakers told to change ingredients after biscuits found to contain elements linked to cancer It promised to study ways to ensure there would no longer be contamination in the manufacturing process. If it could not ultimately satisfy the requirements, it might stop importing the product. Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han urged manufacturers to be more careful in producing vegetarian meats because it was difficult for consumers to identify whether the products were as they claimed to be. “No consumer has the ability to test the meat they buy before eating,” she said. The study also found that nearly 60 per cent, or 20 samples examined, were classified as high in salt, containing more than 600mg of sodium per 100g, according to the guidelines laid out by the Centre for Food Safety. Two in five handwash products may cause allergies or skin problems The protein content in three vegetarian seafood samples tested was said to be generally low. One vegan prawn product by Batata Greens, which is also marked as manufactured in Taiwan, was labelled as having 2.3g of protein per 100g, but it was found to have none. The agent of Batata Greens explained to the council that the labelling requirements in the product’s jurisdiction of manufacture are different from those in Hong Kong, causing the disparity. It had immediately got in touch with the manufacturers and related departments to stop selling the products. Meanwhile, the examination detected preservatives in six products, even though none of the samples provided information of such substances on their lists of ingredients. Wong suggested the government take note of practices in other countries and introduce laws or guidelines governing the definition of vegetarian meat and its labelling.