The Hong Kong Consumer Council – which is an officially structured body operating under its own ordinance but without enforcement teeth – typically researches and applies its findings directly on any target and habitually publicizes warnings to engender appropriate cautionary responses in regard to its frequent examination of and reports on consumer targetted problems in manufacturing and processing of products for human consumption.
The recent Consumer Council report on pre-packaged biscuits, one of the most popular cross generational snacks found that :-
1. In 57 test samples including nutrition labelling, 23 was found to have discrepancies between their actual nutrient contents and the value declared in the label. There is an acceptable tolerance range of 20% but these discrepancies exceeded it. In one particular case a sample of biscuits was detected with a saturated fatty acid content exceeded by 76 times the amount indicated on the label. Accordingly, the Council stresses that the inaccurate information may have particularly severe impacts on human health particularly individuals with long term diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
2. 85% (51 samples) were in the classification of high in fat, sugar or sodium with 33 samples reaching the "high-fat" food benchmark set out in the guidelines published by the Centre for Food Safety. In its report the Council drew attention to the publication in Hong Kong in July 2021 of the "Harmful Substances in Food (Amendment) Regulation 2021". This regulation specifies "partially hydrogenated oil" as the main source of industrially produced trans fatty acids and specifies it as a prohibited substance in food.
Another regulation passed at the same time stipulates that any pre-packaged food containing hydrogenated oils must ensure that this is included in the external list of ingredients although these last will not come into force until 1 December 2023. The Council expects the industry to start proactive improvement of this labelling now.
Further samples reached the "high-sugar" food benchmark substantially in excess of the acceptable limit of 15 grammes of sugar per 100 grammes of solid food sample and 13 samples classified as "high-sodium" foods were found to contain sodium content of over 50% of the daily limit for adults recommended by the World Health Organization of 2,000 milligrams of sodium.
3. Perhaps more seriously in terms of public market consumption the survey found that 40% of samples were not in compliance with the exterior nutrition labelling and outside the tolerance limit set in the Centre for Food Safety's Guidance Note of "Technical Guidance Notes on Nutrition Labelling and Nutrition".
4. From all the above it is clear that responsibility – and perhaps liability – for these misdescribed contents runs a considerable risk of possible criminal liability, of liability for transgressing labelling requirements and, lastly, possible liability under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance which provides for such false trade descriptions as an offence.
The overall conclusion of the Consumer Council report is that the test results reflect that much improvement is needed from industry for various aspects. The improvement required ranges from ingredient collection, production formula, manufacturing processes and quality control.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.