H.K. tests babies, pulls Japanese no-iodine formula

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Hong Kong said Thursday it will test babies who have consumed two Japanese-made infant formulas found deficient in iodine, after the products were ordered off the city’s shelves.

The move came after officials found the Wakodo and Morinaga formula brands lacked sufficient iodine and warned they could have “potential adverse health effects” on babies’ thyroid glands and brains.

“We urge parents to take their babies to the 10 government-designated health centers for blood tests,” a spokesman at the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said, adding that around 2,000 babies could be affected.

The government ordered the two products pulled from stores after examining the findings of a random test conducted on 14 milk brands.

Morinaga and Wako released separate statements Thursday saying the products are made based on Japanese safety standards and pose no problems in Japan.

Morinaga said adding iodine to milk formula is banned in Japan because the element is consumed in large quantities in the country because seaweed is a key part of the diet.

People living far inland, including in mainland China, do not consume as much iodine and their regulatory standards differ, the firm said.

Morinaga does not directly export the milk products in question to Hong Kong, and the company adds iodine to its milk products made in China. The banned products are believed to have been shipped from Japan through export agencies based in Hong Kong.

The banned products, which are for babies aged up to 9 months, were found to contain less than one-third of the World Health Organization’s recommended level of iodine, an essential nutrient for infant development.

“This may affect the functioning of the thyroid gland,” the Centre for Food Safety said in a statement.

“If the thyroid gland’s normal functions are significantly affected, there may be potential impact on the brain development of infants.”