Vegetarian "meat" might not be as healthy and nutritious as manufacturers claim, with one sample even found to contain animal genes, the consumer watchdog warned yesterday.

The Hong Kong Consumer Council has strong guidance principles by which it has examined 35 samples of pre-packaged vegetarian meat, saying all failed to fully comply with the technical guidance of the Centre for Food Safety requirements on nutrition labelling.

Releasing the findings, the watchdog said four samples found to contain either animal genes or animal-derived ingredients were inaccurately labelled.

Fish and pig genes were detected in vegetarian fishballs sold under the Saturday brand, said to be from Taiwan, despite the product being labelled as "ovo-lacto" – containing dairy and egg ingredients. Three other products, which claimed to be "lacto" – with dairy elements – also contained traces of egg.

The Council's publicity and community relations committee chairman is reported to say that the reasons could be manufacturers had used animal-derived condiments or ingredients, or egg white as a binding agent. The production line being contaminated by the materials in question could also be a factor.

"The Council stresses food producers have the responsibility to ensure vegetarian meat products do not contain ingredients from animal genes or animal sources," he said.

The watchdog added incorrect labelling might mislead consumers, and the disparity between the declared qualities and actual ones in products could be a contravention of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance under which any trader who applies a false or misleading trade description to a service or product using aggressive commercial practices or bait advertising is liable to a maximum fine of HK$500,000 and up to five years in prison.

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