Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Four things to note in your 2019 diet – according to a year of findings from Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog

  • Tests done throughout the year raise questions about honey products and health food such as tofu including red flags in margarine and bakery items
PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 31 December, 2018, 7:15pm

Food concerns took centre stage in studies carried out by Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog in 2018, with the alarm sounded over harmful substances people may be filling their bellies with.

According to the Consumer Council, some honey and tofu were found to be not as healthy as previously thought, while trends uncovered in some highly sought-after bakery products sparked advice to people to vary their choices.

Here are some questions raised, which may influence your diet decisions in the year ahead:

HK$1,000 jar of manuka honey diluted with plant sugar, watchdog says

1. Is honey really honey?

The council tested 35 honey products and 10 manuka honey samples, reporting in July that Natural Bee Honey, produced by Hero, contained up to eight antibiotics including a cancer-causing substance called metronidazole.

At the time, an agent for the company told the council that the products had been taken off shelves in June and it was investigating the matter.

Another product, Natural Honey, made by Ta Miaw Ko in Taiwan, was also found to contain two antibiotics, with one that could harm male fertility. The company did not respond to the council regarding the results.

Meanwhile, tests suggested seven honey products had other sweeteners. Among them, Taiwanese Honey made by Yan Kang was found to have 85 per cent of its content comprising sugars derived from sweetcorn and sugar cane syrup. The council did not receive a reply from Yan Kang.

A manuka honey product costing more than HK$1,000, made by Superbee UMF, was also found to have sugars from other sources. The factory for Superbee UMF said its products did not contain cane sugar and were on par with local standards.

2. Is margarine carcinogenic?

In April, the watchdog found at least 18 margarine products sold in Hong Kong shops contained glycidol, a substance thought to cause cancer.

But the council’s chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said glycidol was “inevitably produced” with the heating of vegetable oil in the refining process, and could also be found in a host of processed food, including biscuits and pancakes.

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She added it was unrealistic to tell people not to eat anything that might contain the substance.

“But, as glycidol is genotoxic [able to damage genetic information within cells] and carcinogenic, consumers should reduce intake of food containing the substance as much as possible,” Wong said.

What is lurking in your margarine and will it really give you cancer?

3. How healthy is tofu?

Rich in protein and calcium, tofu, also known as bean curd, is a popular with the health conscious.

According to the Centre for Food Safety, products containing at least 6 grams of protein per 100 grams of food were classified as a “source of protein”, while those with no less than 12 grams per 100 grams were considered “high in protein”.

But of the 40 tofu samples tested by the council, only 17 qualified as a “source of protein” while none were “high in protein”.

4. What should bread lovers take note of?

In November, the watchdog reported that croissants and cocktail buns were high in fat content. Sausage rolls, sesame buns, white bread, wholemeal bread and croissants were found to contain greater levels of sodium on average.

Which of Hong Kong’s favourite breads has the most fat and sodium?

Dr Henry Ng Chi-cheung, principal medical officer at the Centre for Food Safety urged consumers to maintain a balanced and diverse diet as the research only focused on sodium, total fat and trans-fat content, without covering other ingredients, such as sugar.

“Some bread may contain lower sodium levels but have a higher sugar content,” Ng said. “Consumers should not eat just one or two types of bread but vary their consumption among several types.”