Earlier today, the Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau launched a three-month public consultation on a proposal for regulatory framework on nutrition and health claims for infant formula, follow-on formula and infant and young children (IYC) foods for those under the age of 36 months.
There is, according to the proposal, no current legislation "capable of effectively regulating the nutrition and health claims made on formula products and IYC foods" in Hong Kong.
Nutrition and health claims are as a result "commonly found" on infant and follow-on formula sold in Hong Kong.
Concerned such claims will discourage breastfeeding, the Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau is seeking to prohibit nutrition claims and regulate health claims made on infant and follow-on formula products.
"It is widely recognised that breast feeding is superior for ensuring, first, physical and psychosocial health and wellbeing of mother and child as well as, secondly, early nutrition to infants and young children which has important impact on their long term health," said the proposal.
"It is hence of paramount importance to prevent practices which would discourage breastfeeding, and to ensure that parents are provided with accurate and appropriate information on formula products and IYC foods to facilitate informed choice."
Nutrition claims on infant formula are "generally not allowed in most jurisdictions", although the European Union (EU), the US, Australia and New Zealand permit the use of limited claims, such as 'lactose-free'.
If incorporated into law, the "five overarching principles" of the proposal will bring Hong Kong in line with much of the world.
Principle one states that nutrition claims "should be prohibited in infant formula" as such claims "may mislead parents and caregivers into thinking that infant formula products consist of nutrients/constituents which are absent or deficient in breast milk, and therefore infant formula products are superior to breast milk."
The Hong Kong Food and Health Bureau proposes, however, that "claims which provide essential health information" such as 'lactose-free' should be permitted.
Health claims, meanwhile, must be "scientifically substantiated," says the principle five.
"Specifically for health claims, in order to ensure they are factual, not misleading and useful to consumers, health claims must have undergone a credible evaluation process," it reads.
The proposed claims crackdown comes during a period of significant growth in Hong Kong infant formula sector.
It is forecast by Euromonitor to grow 20.2% to US$2.73bn (€2.3bn) in 2015.
As in many Asia countries, the Hong Kong infant formula market is dominated by foreign brands, with Mead Johnson Nutrition (US), Nestlé (Switzerland), Abbott Laboratories (US), FrieslandCampina (Netherlands), and Snow Brand (Japan) are the largest companies in the sector respectively.
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