The Center of Food Safety (CFS) has advised parents to stop feeding six powdered infant formulas belonging to three Japanese brands.
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: HK1222
Post: Hong Kong
Voluntary Recall of Infant Formulas for Low Iodine Content
Agriculture in the News
Dairy and Products
The Center of Food Safety (CFS) has advised parents to stop feeding six powdered infant
formulas belonging to three Japanese brands to their babies because test results confirmed
low iodine content. If used as suggested on their labels, the iodine intake of infants will be less
than one third of the value recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), i.e. 15
microgram per kilogram of body weight. The importers have initiated a voluntary recall of the
products. The incident has prompted the government to speed up legislative control of infant
Hong Kong does not have a piece of regulation governing infant formula. Further, the
nutrition labeling regulation which became effective in 2010 does not cover infant formula.
There have been calls from the public urging for strengthened regulation over infant formula.
In response to the pressure, the Hong Kong Center for Food Safety (CFS) has undertaken a
two-year targeted surveillance program this May to test the nutritional composition of infant
and follow-up formula available in the market so as to evaluate the possibility of setting up
legislative control of infant formula. The CFS took samples at local outlets for testing of their
energy and 33 essential nutrients defined by Codex.
Out of the first two batches of 35 samples analyzed, six Japanese infant formula samples
belonging to three Japanese brands were detected with low iodine content. Test results are
available at the government website (batch 1 and batch 2). According to the instructions
provided on the packaging label on the products, the iodine intake of infants relying on the
products as the sole source of nutrition would be less than one third of the value
recommended by the WHO, i.e. 15 microgram per kg of body weight. As Iodine is an essential
micronutrient required for normal body function, growth and development, its insufficient
intake will affect the functioning of the thyroid gland and may harm brain development of
infants. As such, the CFS announced the test results on August 8 and 10 for the first and
second batch respectively and advised the public to stop feeding their babies with the
formulas in question. The trade voluntarily recalled the products on the shelf accordingly.
Apart from the six products subject to voluntary recall, six other products were also found with
iodine content lower than Codex standard but importers have not been advised to remove
them from shelves because they meet WHO standards.
As of August 10, the CFS has completed testing on the iodine content of the Japanese infant
formulas available in Hong Kong. Tests of iodine content on other infant formulas produced in
other counties will be completed by the end of August. The CFS will also continue its tests on
the content of energy and the remaining 32 essential nutrients set by Codex in infant and
follow-up formulas of different brands. This targeted surveillance program is expected to be
completed by mid- 2013. Test results will be announced in phases.
The finding that iodine deficiency in some infant formulas serves as a catalyst prompting the
Hong Kong government to initiate legislative work regulating the nutrition requirements and
labeling of infant formula.
Currently, Hong Kong does not have a specific piece of regulation for infant formula. The CFS
takes milk powder samples for chemical, microbiological and radiological tests under the food
surveillance program. The nutrition labeling regulation which became effective in 2010 does
not cover infant formula. In light of the finding of iodine deficiency in some formula, the CFS
has pledged to formulate, as soon as possible, regulatory proposals regarding the nutritional
composition and nutrition labeling of infant formula. Before the legislation is in place, the CFS
will issue a code of practice to promote breast feeding and to provide guidelines for nutrition
requirements and the labeling of infant formula. However, a timeframe has yet to be
The government’s survey exercise on nutrition content of infant formula indicated the lack of
accuracy on labels. The test results on iodine content on quite a number of products are
different from the labels. The discrepancy could vary between 20 to 45 percent. Pharmacists
commented that a 5 percent discrepancy between test result and label already suggests that
the product lacks consistence in product quality control. The public urged the government to
look into the issue.
There are over 100 brands of infant formulas in Hong Kong. Some Industry representatives
estimated that Japanese infant formulas had once been very popular in Hong Kong accounting
for over one-third of the market share. However, the market share of Japanese infant
formulas greatly shrieked to 3 percent after the potential food safety issues concerning the
nuclear event in Japan last year.
According to the estimates of the Hong Kong government, about 1000 plus infants are being
fed with the formulas in question. As a safety precaution, the HKG arranged designated clinics
to provide thyroid function test for infants between one and eight months old who are taking
those formulas. As of August 12, the test results of 98 blood samples were available, of which
97 were normal. One test result revealed that the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level
was slightly below the reference range but not as a result of iodine deficiency. The test results,
to a certain extent, alleviated the worries of many parents.
Reportedly, Japan has no legal requirements for iodine content in formula milk.