Proposed legislation to raise truthfulness bar for milk formula ads

The HKSAR government's three-month consultation for establishing a regulatory framework, which will govern nutrition and health claims for infant and follow-up formula and pre-packaged food for children under three years old (IYC foods), will end on 17 April.

The proposed regulatory framework will go beyond regulating labelling and packaging of the aforementioned products, extending to ads promoting such products.

The written proposal stated, "Nutrition and health claims on formula products and IYC foods, while usually present on the packaging of the relevant products, are also commonly found in the form of advertisement in the media, including the Internet."

"In making purchasing decisions for these products, parents and care-givers are more likely to be influenced by claims channelled through advertisements than the packaging itself."

Speaking as a guest on TVB's On the Record show, Sophia Chan, Under Secretary for Food and Health, said the government's core principle regarding ads for milk formula products and IYC foods is to ensure health and nutrition claims made in these ads are truthful.

"Most importantly, what is said in the ads must not be factually incorrect, false and must be backed by scientific evidence," Chan said.

The government's push for more women to breastfeed their babies rather than feeding them milk formula is a goal it hopes to achieve through the new legislation, according to Chan.  The strategy is to keep mums informed.

Chan said, "After giving birth, every mother should have the chance to access appropriate information about what's good for their child and what type of feeding they want to opt for."

"Apart from milk formula brands, the government, Department of Health and other organisations are also sources of information.  It's important for mothers to access diverse sources of information and make an informed choice based on information that is backed by scientific evidence."

Should the government establish the regulatory framework, a grace period of one to two years will be given.

The written proposal said, "This will allow time for the trade to reformulate their products, modify their packaging, or refine their marketing strategy as necessary, to comply with the new requirements."

The proposed regulatory framework comes almost two years after The Trade Descriptions (Unfair Trade Practices) (Amendment) Ordinance 2012 came into effect in July 2013 which prohibits bait advertising.

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