Soy sauce cancer warning

ELEVEN soy sauces and seasonings sold in Hong Kong contain a cancer-causing chemical, the Consumer Council (消費者委員) warned as it called for precise labelling on the products.

Experts tested 38 soy sauces and two seasonings that can be bought from local supermarkets and department stores and found that 11 brands contained between 0.1 and 15.9 parts per million of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a by-product of a caramel-based food colouring.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (國際癌症研究機構) has classified 4-MEI as a substance that is “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.

Studies found it could cause cancer in mice.

However, a panel of experts from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (糧食及農業組織) and the World Health Organisation (世界衛生組織) did not consider small amounts of the by-product of the food colouring to be of major concern.

Still, the permitted concentration of 4-MEI is not specified in Hong Kong regulations, and it is pointed out that levels in soy sauces can exceed levels that merit warnings in some jurisdictions.

For example, Premium Dark Soy Sauce (金標老抽) produced by Yu Pin King (御品皇), a brand launched by supermarket chain Wellcome (惠康超級市), has a concentration of 15.9 ppm of 4-MEI. That would require a warning on the label in California (), said Consumer Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han (黃鳳嫻).

But as there is no regulatory requirement in Hong Kong, there is no warning.

“We suggest the Centre for Food Safety look into the matter globally,” Wong said.

(This article is published on Sing Tao Daily on 23 August 2016)

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