Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene


Confirmed Minutes of the Fifteenth Meeting
held at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, 17 March 2003
at Room 2005, 20/F., Murray Building, 5 Garden Road, Hong Kong

Present

Dr TSE Chi-wai, Daniel (Chairman)
Mr CHAN Bing-woon
Dr John HO
Mr Peter HUNG
Dr Anthony Edward JAMES 
Mr Tony KAN
Miss Leonie KI
Mrs LAM WONG Pik-har, Grace
Mr LEE Luen-wai, John
Mr Eddy LI
Mr LO Yau-lai, Winston
Professor MA Ching-yung
Mr Thomas CHAN Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation
Mr Gregory LEUNG Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene
Miss Vivian KO (Secretary)


Absent with Apologies

Professor KWAN Hoi-shan
Dr Ronald LEUNG
Dr the Hon LO Wing-lok
Professor YUEN Kwok-yung
Dr E K YEOH Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Dr Margaret CHAN Director of Health



In Attendance

Health, Welfare and Food Bureau

Mrs Carrie YAU Permanent Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food
Mr Eddy CHAN Deputy Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (Food and Environmental Hygiene)
Mr Edward LAW Principal Assistant Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food (Food and Environmental Hygiene) 2

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department

Dr Y Y HO Consultant (Community Medicine)
(Risk Assessment and Communication)
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Opening Remarks

The Chairman welcomed Members to the meeting.

Agenda Item 1: Confirmation of the Minutes of the Last Meeting

2. Members confirmed the minutes of the last meeting.

Agenda Item 2 : Matters Arising from the Minutes of the Last Meeting

3. The Chairman said that the Advisory Council was informed at the last meeting (paragraph 14 of the minutes of the last meeting) that the licences of 20 farmers would be revoked if they failed to put the biosecurity measures in place by 4 February 2003. He asked how many licences had been revoked as a result. Mr Thomas CHAN replied that 4 licences had been revoked.

Agenda Item 3: Food Labelling 

4. The Chairman said that the purpose of the item was to seek Members�� views on the Government��s proposals on nutrition labelling and the regulation of genetically modified (GM) food. Mr Eddy CHAN presented the paper. Dr Y Y HO then made a powerpoint presentation on the results of the feasibility study on nutrition labelling.

5. The Chairman invited Members to comment on the Government��s proposal on nutrition labelling first.

6. A Member said that he supported the implementation of nutrition labelling as information about nutrients contained in food could help consumers make healthy food choices. He asked why it was proposed to require listing of four core nutrients only (i.e., energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat). He suggested that vitamins and minerals should also be labelled. He also proposed that the level of nutrients should be expressed in ��per serving�� amount instead of absolute amount per 100 g or 100 ml of food as the former presentation format was easier for consumers to understand.

7. In response, Dr Y Y HO said that some ten core nutrients were proposed to be mandated for labelling. As most countries adopted the presentation of absolute amount per 100 g or 100 ml of food rather than the approach of ��per serving�� amount, the former approach was proposed. He pointed out that these were only initial proposals and the public would be consulted later.

8. A Member said that there was increasing demand from consumers for information about nutrients contained in food. Noting that the United States and European Union adopted different formats for the expression of information about nutrients, due consideration should be given to allow for such labels to reduce extra re-labelling costs. Hong Kong should also follow the guidelines issued by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) for nutrition labelling. Otherwise, the food price in Hong Kong would increase as food suppliers needed to prepare designated food labels for the Hong Kong market.

9. Dr Y Y HO said that the Codex guidelines recommended that four core nutrients should be labelled and countries could determine whether information about additional nutrients should be listed depending on the specific health situation of their citizens. Hence, the nutrition labelling requirements in Hong Kong might not be the same as those in other places. He reiterated that the Government��s proposal would be put forward for public consultation.

10. A Member said that he supported the introduction of a nutrition labelling system. Noting that non-nutrient function claims were proposed to be subject to the control under section 61 of the Public Health (Municipal Services) Ordinance (Cap. 132) (PHMSO), he remarked that the section might be too general for the regulation of non-nutrient function claims.

11. Dr Y Y HO said that function claims were about the physiological role of a substance in growth, development and normal functions of the body. Function claims were different from health claims which were usually more controversial. As function claims were not likely to lead to public health hazards, section 61 of the PHMSO was considered to be sufficient to regulate non-nutrient function claims.

12. The Chairman said that many health claims were related to Chinese herbal medicine. Many concerns over health claims could be addressed when the legislation for the control of Chinese medicine took effect.

13. A Member said that there might be some confusion in the terminologies ��function claims�� and ��health claims��. Nutrient function claims in Codex guidelines referred to claims related to function of a nutrient based on scientific consensus and should not imply or include any statement that the nutrient would afford a cure or treatment for or protection from diseases. Nutrient health claims are not recommended by Codex and are only allowed in the United States. Due consideration should be given as to whether health claims were allowed in Hong Kong for packaged foods due to controversy on some of these claims. He asked if there was any regulation over health claims in Hong Kong. Mr Gregory LEUNG replied that the Department of Health was now looking into the mechanism for regulating health claims in a separate exercise.

14. A Member asked about the possible cost implications on the trade of the proposed nutrition labelling system, the trade��s response towards the proposal and the expected timeline for all food suppliers to include nutrition information in their food labels. In response, Dr Y Y HO said that the proposal was not expected to bring about significant cost implications to the trade. At present, about 42% of the prepackaged food already carried nutrition labels. For the first phase of implementation, food suppliers were free to determine if they would implement nutrition labelling. A mandatory system would only be imposed after five to ten years under a second phase of implementation. Mr Leung added that there would be sufficient lead time for food suppliers to adjust their financial plan and production cycle to absorb any additional costs brought by the proposal. Another Member concurred. 

15. A Member reiterated that if the format of nutrition labels to be adopted in Hong Kong was not the same as that in other major markets, food suppliers would have to prepare specific labels for the Hong Kong market. The additional costs incurred would eventually be passed on to consumers. He suggested that Hong Kong should adopt the formats of nutrition labels adopted in other major markets. Mr Leung said that the trade would be consulted on these details during the public consultation exercise to be conducted in the second half of 2003.

16. The Chairman then invited Members to comment on the Government��s proposal on the regulation of GM food.

17. A Member asked what would be the threshold level of GM ingredients in food to be adopted for pre-market safety assessment. Dr Y Y HO replied that the Government had not made any decision in this regard and would take into account international practice when determining the threshold level. The Member said that he supported a threshold level of 5% as it could address the concern of unintentional mixing of GM and non-GM crops/ingredients in the supply chain. Mr Eddy CHAN responded that the trade would be consulted on this issue later. 

18. A Member asked how pre-market safety assessment would be conducted on locally developed GM food. In response, Mr Eddy CHAN said that there was so far no local development of GM food. If there was locally developed GM food in the future, a mechanism of requiring local GM food developers to conduct safety assessments would have to be put in place. 

19. In response to a Member��s query about the timetable for the introduction of a mandatory GM food labelling system in Hong Kong, Mr Eddy CHAN said that the Administration had no definite timetable for the time being given a lack of strong justification for the labelling of GM food on food safety grounds and no international consensus on the labelling of GM food. The Administration would monitor closely international developments on the matter. 

20. A Member said that he did not agree that encouraging the trade to adopt a voluntary GM food labelling system was a practical alternative to a mandatory system for meeting consumers�� demand of making informed choices. Rather, this would create confusion to the trade and consumers. It was because food suppliers and importers had the freedom of not labelling the GM ingredients of their food products even though their products contained GM ingredients above the threshold level. Although guidelines on GM labelling would be issued, food suppliers and importers were not mandated to follow the guidelines and they might adopt different terminology and labelling approaches. In addition, negative GM claims were also misleading. Food products could not attain a ��GM free�� status as there would always be traces of GM ingredients due to unintentional mixing along the production and supply chain. Hence, a threshold of GM ingredients would have to be worked out for products to be labelled as ��non GM source��. However, this might beg the question as to whether section 61 of the PHMSO would be violated since the threshold level was not set out in law. 

21. Another Member said that he supported voluntary labelling as there was no international consensus on the details of the labelling of GM food and Codex had not issued any guidelines on the matter. There had been discussions between the trade and the Government on the guidelines for voluntary GM food labelling. The trade was of the view that ��GM free�� claims guidelines needed to be very strict and vigorously enforced otherwise they would easily be misleading because there were bound to be traces of GM ingredients in food products. So unless ��GM free�� could conclusively be proved, such claims should not be allowed. However, other negative claims could be considered provided that a threshold level and an Identity Preservation system were worked out. 

22. Another Member concurred that ��GM free�� claims should not be allowed as there would always be unintentional mixing of GM and non-GM crops/ingredients and it was not possible to ensure a GM free status.

23. Mr Eddy CHAN said that the trade would be consulted on the guidelines later. In response to the Chairman��s query, Dr Y Y HO said that the guidelines would cover the threshold level of GM content for labelling, terminologies and labelling approaches.

24. A Member said that the regulatory impact assessment appeared to have underestimated the cost implications on the trade under the various options of mandatory GM food labelling. 

25. Addressing a Member��s concerns, Mr Eddy CHAN said that the economic cost of the various options of mandatory GM food labelling examined in the regulatory impact assessment covered the cost to the trade for complying with the labelling requirements and the cost to the Government for enforcing the requirements. He explained that it was not easy for the consultant to estimate the economic cost given the difficulties in obtaining compliance figures and proprietary information from the trade. 

26. Mr Eddy CHAN reiterated that the trade would be consulted on the details of the proposed pre-market safety assessment and the guidelines on GM food labelling. 

27. A Member said that ��overlaid labels�� (i.e., usually Chinese labels prepared by importers or local distributors) in some pharmaceutical products were placed over the English labels prepared by the manufacturers. Hence, the non-Chinese speaking community in Hong Kong could not obtain the information about the pharmaceutical products. For the successful implementation of nutrition labelling in Hong Kong, the proposed labelling requirements should ensure that any overlaid labels should not cover the English information in the original labels. 

28. The Chairman thanked Members for expressing their views on the paper.

Agenda Item 4: Anti-rodent Campaign 2003

29. The Chairman said that the purpose of the item was to brief Members on the Anti-mosquito Campaign 2003 and an enhanced vector surveillance programmed implemented by FEHD. Mr M C YUEN presented the paper.

30. A Member commended FEHD��s efforts on anti-mosquito activities. He said that preventive measures should be put in place to reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases particularly dengue fever in warmer seasons. For example, penalty might be imposed on the construction industry for not taking effective measures to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds in construction sites. In response, Mr Yuen said that the Government would continue to appeal to the construction industry for their cooperation in mosquito control. 

31. The Chairman said that in order to solicit the community��s participation in tacking the mosquito problem, public education should be stepped up to remind the public of the severity of the potential threats that could be brought about by dengue fever to human health. 

32. Noting that the Area Ovitrap Index (AOI) of some surveyed locations increased substantially from January to February 2003, a Member asked why the AOI could change substantially in a month��s time. Dr Y Y HO explained that around 50 ovitraps were placed in each surveyed location to detect the presence of Aedes albopictus. Since the breeding of mosquitoes could be very fast, the AOI of a surveyed location could increase quite significantly in a month��s time.

33. A Member asked if the presence of different types of mosquitoes were detected under the present dengue vector surveillance programme. In response, Mr Yuen said that there were two types of mosquitoes, namely Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegypti, that could spread dengue fever. So far, only Aedes albopictus had been found in Hong Kong and hence the AOI and the Monthly Ovitrap Index (MOI) only measured the presence of this type of mosquito. To enable the public to recognize the appearance of this type of mosquito, photos of the mosquito were presented in posters and leaflets. Noting that Aedes aegypti could spread dengue fever more effectively and the disease was more serious, the Chairman suggested that there should also be public education about the spread of dengue fever by Aedes aegypti. 

34. A Member suggested that there should be more publicity about the AOI and MOI to increase the public��s awareness of the mosquito problems in individual districts. 

35. The Chairman thanked Members for expressing their views on the paper.

Agenda Item 5: Any Other Business

36. The Chairman said that it was the last meeting of the current term of the Council. He thanked members for their significant contributions given to the work of the Council. 

37. There being no other business, the meeting ended at about 5:00 p.m.

Secretariat
Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
Health, Welfare and Food Bureau
May 2003

 

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