Health worry spreads to margarines Consumer Council urges government controls after finding 85pc of brands contain harmful substance

Top News | Sophie Hui Apr 17, 2018
Sophie Hui

Eighty-five percent of margarine on sale in Hong Kong contains carcinogenic genotoxic glycidol or traces of a substance known as 3-MCPD that can harm the kidneys and male reproductive systems.

The findings came with experts for the Consumer Council testing 30 types of margarine, butter and related products.

Eighteen samples of margarine contained glycidol, ranging from 13 to 640 micrograms per kilogram, with Sunny Meadow spread with canola oil containing the highest level.

Sixteen samples also had traces of 3-monochloropropanediol, with the highest, President Ambassador salted culinary fat blend, containing 1,100 micrograms per kilogram.

But no such harmful elements were found in the nine sorts of butter tested - to be expected as they are usually unrefined.

Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said Hong Kong has no regulations limiting the level of the two substances in food.

But a joint Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization expert committee on food additives has tables to show tolerable daily intakes of 3-MCPD and the related 3-MCPDE, and the European Food Safety Authority also suggests a limit.

But the Consumer Council said people need not be too worried of suffering ill effects with a normal consumption of 3-MCPD. "For glycidol, the recommendation is to have the minimal intake [as] glycidol and GE [glycidol esters] are genotoxic and carcinogenic," Wong said.

"The general advice for consumers is the less intake the better it is for your health."

Apart from margarine, Wong said, toxic chemicals can be produced when vegetable oil is heated. That means they can be found in various kinds of food, including barbecued and baked items.

So she reminded people to "be cautious about their dietary patterns" and not to eat too much of a certain kind of food.

The watchdog also suggested the government follow international guidelines and introduce regulatory oversight procedures to limit the content of harmful substances to safeguard public health.

The Consumer Council also found almost 50 percent of the nutrition labels and nutrient claims on the range of products checked were seriously flawed and inaccurate, which could go against regulations.

For example, Lurpak slightly salted organic spreadable butter blended with vegetable oil was tested and found to have a sodium content of 410 milligrams per kilogram, or 10 times higher than the 36 on its label.

Additionally, nine products contained trans fatty acids 20 percent higher than what was on their labels. And four samples with labels claiming to contain zero trans fatty acids contained 0.6g to 2.9g per kg.

The council noted that the Centre for Food Safety has strict rules to govern nutrition labels on pre-packaged food.

False and misleading product labeling may contravene the law, so the council has handed information to the center. The CFS has said it will follow up and take appropriate action.

Wong Kam-fai, chairman of the council's Trade Practices and Consumer Complaints Review Committee, urged food manufacturers to be responsible and to correct faulty labeling as incorrect information goes against consumer rights to know.

"If information is not correct," he stressed, consumers "can't make the right choices."

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