Testers refuse to chew on vegetarian meat claims

Local | Sophie Hui 16 Aug 2019

Nearly a third of "vegetarian meats" that Hong Kong people consume are not totally meatless, Consumer Council tests have shown.

The watchdog tested 35 prepackaged foods labeled as vegetarian meats. They included four meatballs, eight ham or sausage, seven soy meat, nine poultry and seven seafoods.

But council experts found animal genes and animal-derived ingredients in 12 samples. They believed animal-derived condiments were used in the products.

Egg white may also have been used for adhesive purposes or there was cross-contamination in the production line, the watchdog said.

A veg fish ball from Taiwan brand Saturday - whose label says it contained milk, egg ingredients or "ovo-lacto" - was found to contain pig and fish genes.

Three other Taiwan-sourced samples - veggie hot dog, veggie ham and "Japanese roast eel" - were found to contain egg even though the labels claimed there was only milk.

The council said vegetarians or chronically ill patients have a stricter standard of health, so erroneous labeling could mislead them and violate the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

"We are asking and urging manufacturers to be more careful on the packaging by providing an accurate ingredient list," said Clement Chan Kam-wing, chairman of the council's Publicity and Community Relations Committee.

"By not doing that they're contravening relevant legislation."

Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han pointed to how people with certain religious beliefs could be upset.

"A tiny amount of animal genes would not harm their bodies, but it would harm their beliefs," she said.

The watchdog also found six samples contained preservatives, though none of the 35 that were tested had mentioned such additives.

And three samples - a Virya Food's veggie ham, fried vegetarian duck and a vegetarian chicken from the mainland - contained the banned sorbic acid.

But the council said the level of sorbic acid in the three samples was low, and normal consumption was unlikely to be a health problem.

On a broader note, the Consumer Council said that consuming vegetarian products does not necessarily mean having a healthier diet. Twenty samples had high sodium content, and a vegetarian mutton and a vegetarian duck had high fat content.

Eating 100 grams of the vegetarian duck, it was pointed out, would mean the fat content would be nearly 40 percent of the World Health Organization's suggested daily limit for fats.

The watchdog also urged manufacturers to provide accurate nutrition labeling, with the protein content in three vegetarian seafood samples low.

One claimed to have 2.3 grams of protein per 100 grams, but actually it was zero.


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