Hong Kong tests babies over Japanese formula

HONG KONG - Hong Kong said Thursday it will test babies who have consumed two Japanese-made infant formulas found to have low levels of 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 centres for blood tests," a spokesman at the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department told AFP, adding that around 2,000 babies could be affected.

The government ordered the two products to be removed from shop shelves, following the findings of a random test on 14 milk brands.

The banned products, which are for babies aged up to nine months, were found to contain less than one-third of the World Health Organization's recommended levels 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."

The government said it will continue to test other brands.

Japanese-made baby formula accounts for about three percent of the total milk brands distributed in Hong Kong.

Their popularity slumped after the nuclear disaster in Japan last year sparked fears of radiation poisoning.

Hong Kong is a favourite place for mainland Chinese shoppers to stock up on baby formula, thanks to its relatively high health standards and strong enforcement.

Mainland China's dairy industry was rocked in 2008 when at least six babies died and another 300,000 became ill from milk tainted with the industrial chemical melamine.

Melamine had been added to give the appearance of higher protein levels.