The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) and the Consumer Council (CC) have conducted a study to give an overview of the nutrition labelling and related claims in prepackaged foods for infants and young children available in the local market. It aimed to encourage food traders to make reference to relevant Codex standards and guidelines for providing factual and not misleading nutrition information in these food products.
2. A total of 117 popular prepackaged food samples intended principally for infants and young children under the age of 36 months were collected between August and September 2011 from local major supermarkets, specialised baby accessory stores and other retail stores. The nutrition labelling and related claims provided on the product labels were examined, and the information was compared against the relevant Codex requirements and recommendations. Samples included cereal-based foods (including cereal powders, rusks and biscuits) and canned baby foods (including fruit and vegetables, meat, desserts and meals).
3. T he study revealed that out of the 117 samples, 80 samples (68% of total samples) provided complete nutrient list in Chinese/English . Out of these 80 samples, 33 (41%) expressed the nutrient content as both per 100g/mL of food and per specified quantity of the food as suggested for consumption, while 79 (99%) presented the content of energy as well as the three major macronutrients including protein, total fat and carbohydrate s, i.e. the basic "1+3" nutrition labelling requirement under the relevant Codex standards. Out of the 29 cereal-based samples with complete nutrient list in Chinese/English , 27 (93%) and 18 (62%) declared the value of sodium and vitamin B1 respectively, which was in accordance with Codex's recommendations.
4. Regarding claims, 33 samples (28 % of total samples ) were found to bear at least one nutrition or health claims in Chinese/ English, including nutrient content claim, nutrient comparative claim, nutrient function claim, other function claim and reduction of disease risk claim. Among 33 samples containing nutrient content claim, one also contained nutrient comparative claim , 23 of them declared the content of the claimed nutrient ( s ) on label.
5. The study also revealed that 4 samples contained 4 types of claims which were lacking support by internationally recognised scientific evidence. The concerned claims involved vitamin E and immunity, choline and eye development, probiotic and immunity and probiotic and allergy. The CFS is conducting follow-up investigations against the above samples on whether they may have been calculated to mislead the consumers. The label of another sample might easily cause confusion to the consumers.
6. In order to regulate manufacturers and distributors of breastmilk substitutes and related products to prevent them from advertising and marketing their breastmilk substitutes and related products by way of malpractices, a Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (Code) is being prepared by a Task Force established by the Department of Health since late June 2010. After making reference to Codex requirements and taking local situation into account, the Task Force recommends to incorporate the requirements on nutritional composition, nutrition labelling and related claims for prepackaged breastmilk substitutes and foods for infants and young children for sold in Hong Kong into the Code. It is expected that the Code will be implemented within the first half of 2013. Subsequently, the Government will monitor the trade for the compliance with the Code, and depending on traders' responses on the local Code to further consider whether there is a need to develop specific legislation to regulate the nutritional composition, labelling and related claims in food for infants and young children.
Advice to the Public
WHO recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and continue to be breastfed, timely with complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
Prepare food for infants and young children with fresh ingredients at home for more diversified food choices.
When choosing prepackaged foods for infants and young children, make reference to the nutrition label and ingredient list on the package for informed food choices.
Advice to the Trade
Produce a greater variety of healthy foods for infants and young children to facilitate parents' informed choices.
Make reference to relevant Codex standards and guidelines for providing content of energy as well as protein, total fat and carbohydrates in prepackaged food for infants and young children, and declare content of sodium and vitamin B1 in cereal-based food.
All information provided in prepackaged food, including nutrition label and claims should be factual and not misleading to consumers.
Note the latest development of the Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes and comply with relevant requirements in the Code.
- The related article is published in the CHOICE MAGAZINE (Issue 426 released on 16 April 2012) (Chinese only).
- Methodology adopted in this study for assessing nutrient content and health claims