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Ombudsman probes Government’s regulation of proprietary Chinese medicine

8 June 2017

The Ombudsman, Ms Connie Lau, today (June 8) declared a direct investigation to examine the regulation of unregistered proprietary Chinese medicine (pCm) by the Department of Health (DH) and the Food and Health Bureau (FHB).


Under the Chinese Medicine Ordinance (Cap. 549), all products that fall within the definition of pCm cannot be imported to, manufactured in or sold in Hong Kong unless they are registered with the Chinese Medicines Board under the Chinese Medicine Council of Hong Kong.


Nevertheless, since the provisions in the Ordinance covering registration of pCm took effect in 2003, only a few pCm products have been issued a certificate of registration. Meanwhile, some purported health products have appeared in the market. They are composed mainly of Chinese herbal medicines but have other ingredients such as wheat and minerals added. These products are not regarded as pCm by the Government and so no registration is required for selling them. The Office is concerned that there may be many health products containing Chinese herbal medicines available in the market without registration, yet the quality and safety of these food products with drug effects are questionable.


According to the DH, pCm as defined in the Ordinance means any proprietary product composed solely of Chinese herbal medicines as active ingredients for treatment and healthcare purposes. As some of the aforementioned health products are not composed solely of Chinese herbal medicines but also contain other ingredients, they are not subject to regulation under the Ordinance. However, academics in the field of Chinese medicine have pointed out that some health products may have stronger drug effects than those composed solely of Chinese herbal medicines.


Ms Lau said, “The Government has the obligation to ensure safety in consumption by the public of products that contain Chinese herbal medicines. Nevertheless, our preliminary inquiry indicates that there may be loopholes in the existing regulatory mechanism for pCm, such that manufacturers are able to circumvent the regulation of the Ordinance by adding other food ingredients to pCm products, resulting in no registration being required for the sale of those products. That might put people’s health at risk. We, therefore, have initiated this direct investigation to examine whether the current regulation by the DH and the FHB of products containing Chinese herbal medicines is adequate.”


The ambit of this direct investigation covers:


(1) whether the definition of pCm under the Ordinance has room for review;


(2) whether the Government’s regulation of health products containing Chinese herbal medicines is adequate; and


(3) any areas for improvement and enhancement.


The Ombudsman now invites members of the public to send their views in writing to the Office of The Ombudsman by July 10, 2017:


Address: 30/F, China Merchants Tower, Shun Tak Centre
168-200 Connaught Road Central, Hong Kong
Fax: 2882 8149


Office of The Ombudsman
June 8, 2017