Guidelines on identification and labelling of oilfish and cod issued

The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) today (August 16) issued the Guidelines on Identification and Labelling of Oilfish/Cod.

The guidelines are developed by a working group comprising representatives from the CFS, the trade, academic institutes, the Consumer Council and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, following earlier complaints by people about oily diarrhoea after consuming fish products believed to be "oilfish" but labelled as "codfish".

Elaborating on the guidelines, the Acting Controller of the CFS, Dr Constance Chan, said that as each fish species had only one valid scientific name, which was unique and universally recognised, fish traders should use scientific names in their transactions to avoid confusion.

For oilfish, the scientific names of the two species most commonly reported to be associated with oily diarrhoea are Ruvettus pretiosus and Lepidocybium flavobrunneum. To help consumers, the working group recommends that these fish species should be labelled "oilfish" in English and " 蠟油魚 " in Chinese as their common names, and no other names, including "cod", should be used.

"Apart from using proper common names on food labels, traders should also provide supplementary information to consumers about potential health risks and cooking methods related to the consumption of 'oilfish'," Dr Chan said.

"And according to scientific classification, only fish belonging to the order Gadiformes should use common name containing the word 'cod'."

"However, for Anoplopoma fimbria, Dissostichus eleginoides and Dissostichus mawsoni, while not belonging to the order Gadiformes, the existing common names, which include the word 'cod', may continue to be used on food labels, menus or food signs, provided that the corresponding scientific name, common name used in scientific literature or common name recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations is supplemented at the same time." This recommendation takes into account the fact that such common names have been widely accepted by the consumers and the trade, and such fish species do not pose potential health problems to consumers.

The CFS today organised a briefing for members of the trade to introduce the guidelines and exchange views with them.

"The guidelines have taken into account the requirements of a number of countries on naming, labelling and handling of fish which might cause oily diarrhoea. Members of the trade, including importers, wholesalers, retailers, and restaurant operators, are advised to adopt them to avoid confusion and to enhance consumer confidence," Dr Chan said.

"The Government will monitor the situation and review the guidelines in consultation with the fish trade and other relevant parties as appropriate."

She also reminded members of the trade that they were required by law to properly describe their food products.

"While the guidelines are mainly for the trade, consumers are encouraged to refer to them for better understanding of fish products in the market," she said.

Copies of the guidelines are available at District Environmental Hygiene Offices, District Offices and public libraries and can also be downloaded from the CFS website (

Ends/Thursday, August 16, 2007