The Hong Kong government is inviting the public to submit comments on its draft Code intended to provide marketing and labeling guidelines for infant formula and food products for infants and young ch
THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY
USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT
GAIN Report Number: HK1228
Post: Hong Kong
Voluntary Code of Practice on Infant Formula Launched
Agriculture in the News
Dairy and Products
FAIRS Subject Report
The Hong Kong government is inviting the public to submit comments on its draft Code intended to
provide marketing and labeling guidelines for infant formula and food products for infants and young
children between 0-36 months. The Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and
Related Products, and Food Products for Infants and Young Children is voluntary in nature. However,
some key industry representatives have expressed significant concern over its adoption and believe
that the government should amend the current draft. All comments should be submitted by email to
email@example.com before December 31, 2012. Meanwhile, the HKG has submitted notification to
WTO (G/SPS/N/HKG/38 and G/TBT/N/HKG/43).
The Hong Kong government (HKG) has recently issued a draft Hong Kong Code of Marketing and
Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food Products for Infants and Young Children. The
Code aims to safeguard breastfeeding and ensure adequate nutrition for infants and young children.
It was based in reference to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO,
1981) and the relevant subsequent World Health Assembly (WHA) resolutions. However, the Code
expands its scope by not only covering the marketing of breastmilk substitutes but also the labeling
and quality standards of formula milk and food products for infants and young children.
The HKG has launched a public consultation process on the draft Code. U.S. exporters who want to
submit comments to the HKG should have them sent to firstname.lastname@example.org before December 31, 2012
and copy ATO office at email@example.com.
The Code is voluntary in nature but some key industry members have expressed significant concern
over its adoption. These industry members claim that despite having expressed their views to the HKG
during the Code drafting process their views were not incorporated into the current draft. The
members have expressed three main concerns. First, it agrees that there should be legislative
regulation but opposes that the regulation be voluntary. Second, it believes that the regulation of
marketing and labeling should be covered by different guidelines, as is international practice, rather
than by one combined code as the HKG is currently proposing. Third, the members believe that
regulating the marketing of infant formula for infants between 0-6 months is appropriate, but that the
marketing regulation should not extend to products for all children under 36 months. (However, the
members have not voiced objection that products for infants and children under 36 months be subject
to a separate regulation covering labeling and nutrition requirements).
The Hong Kong Code
The draft Hong Kong Code of Marketing and Quality of Formula Milk and Related Products, and Food
Products for Infants & Young Children includes 10 articles covering marketing, labeling and quality of
formula and food products for infants and young children between 0-36 months as well as feeding
bottles, teats and pacifiers.
In the areas of marketing and promotion:
The Code advises manufacturers and distributors (M&Ds) not to launch any education and
information dissemination activities for breastfeeding and formula milk feeding and nutrition.
Information can be provided on websites or sent to enquirers upon request. (This article also
restricts education on breastfeeding because studies indicated that breastfeeding will last
longer when mothers have not received any breastfeeding education provided by traders of
The Code advises M&Ds not to launch any promotional activities for formula milk, feeding
bottles, teats and pacifiers.
Public promotion such as advertising and sample distribution of food products for infants and
young children is allowed but not in health care facilities.
In the area of labeling:
The Code does not allow health and nutrition claims for infant formula.
The Code allows health claims but not nutrition claims for follow-up formula.
The Code allows health claims and nutrition claims on four nutrient groups, namely sugars,
sodium, vitamins and minerals, for infant and young children foods. Health claims have to
follow Codex requirements or adhere to those which have been approved by
The Hong Kong Code and a summary are available at the Hong Kong government website.
The public is invited to provide comments on the Hong Kong Code before the deadline of December
31. The Hong Kong plans to finalize the draft in the second quarter of 2013 and have it implemented
by the end of next year.
The Hong Kong government set up a taskforce on Hong Kong Code of Marketing of Breastmilk
Substitutes in June 2010 with an objective to promote breastmilk feeding by restricting marketing
practices of infant and follow-up formula. The taskforce was comprised of a variety of parties
including government representatives, consumer and professional groups and academia. The industry
was disappointed that they were not represented at the taskforce.
In response, some key industry players set up a coalition facilitating their communication with the
While the industry is still in the process of communicating with the government to seek detailed
clarifications of various articles in the Hong Kong Code, there are three broad areas for which some
key market players would like the HKG to accommodate their suggestions.
First, the industry coalition viewed that infant formula should be regulated by mandatory regulations
rather than by voluntary guidelines. Given the voluntary nature of guidelines, different industry
players will follow the guidelines with varying degree of compliance. Thus, the existence of voluntary
guidelines could provide an unlevel playing field for the industry and lead to unfair competition.
Second, the industry called for the government not to combine the regulation of both the marketing
and labeling of infant formula under one Hong Kong Code. They viewed that these two issues should
be dealt with separately as is international practice. They argued that internationally, WHO Code 1981
regulates the marketing of infant formula and Codex provides guidelines on labeling and quality of
Third, the industry agrees to the regulation of marketing activities for infant formula up to 6 months as
recommended by WHO Code 1981, but not to formulas and food intended for infants and children
between 6 and 36 months as proposed by the Hong Kong Code. However, they agree that the labeling
and quality regulation of baby formula and food should cover products intended for infants and
children from 0 to 36 months. (Currently, Hong Kong’s labeling regulation does not apply to formula
and food consumed by children under the age of 36 months. However, the HKG aims to introduce and
complete legislative regulation governing the labeling and nutrition requirements of infant formula
and foods for babies and children under 36 months old in 2013. The legislative proposal will have
more focused quality requirements than those governed by the voluntary Hong Kong Code.)
While the government has indicated that the Code is voluntary and will not disclose the name of any
brands that violate the Code, industry members are concerned that the media and consumer groups
will do market surveillance and announce their results. Furthermore, they worry that their compliance
may have an impact on the consideration of the Hospital Authority Milk Tender.
The industry coalition stressed that they support breastfeeding. Therefore, they have set up a Code of
Practice for the Marketing of Infant Formula (Code of Practice). All coalition members do not advertise
in Hong Kong infant formula for babies less than 6 months.
Nonetheless, the coalition argues that prohibiting promotion for formula for babies and young
children between 6 months and 36 months is not suitable, citing that the government still has a long
way to go promoting breastfeeding and that public breastfeeding infrastructure has yet to be
improved. Thus, the industry members believe that prohibiting product promotion under the current
Hong Kong situation will only stop mothers from collecting information on various formulas and
impact their ability to make informed choices.