Health & Environment

Health & Environment

Organic truth: are you getting what you pay for?

  • 2016-06-24

  by Celia Lai The Organic Standard and Certification System was introduced in Hong Kong 14 years ago. It is supposed to guarantee that organic products meet local standards. Vegetables labelled "organic", for example,  cost $20 to $30 more per catty (604.8 gram) than regular produce. But many consumers remain sceptical. " I heard in the news that not all organic shops are honest. They mix regular veggies with organic ones," said Mr Chan Sze-Chi. Professor Wong Wun-Chung,  executive of Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre (HKORC), admitted that monitoring on the sale of organic vegetables in Hong Kong is inadequate. According to 2015 report by HKORC, wet markets in North, South, Eastern and Tsuen Wan Districts are the black spots for fake organic vegetables. More than 20% of the venders in each market sell vegetables labelled "organic"without certification. HKORC recommends that consumers buy organic produce  with their logo to ensure quality. Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre is the only organization that certifies local organic vegetables. They adopt international standards. Farmers and suppliers who reach the standard are given certificates so that they can use the HKORC logo on their produce. "Our procedure is to certify farm operation. When the organic veggies get into the retail stores ready to be sold, that is another issue," said Professor Wong. "For now, we can check if sellers abuse the certificate through their sales records. If farmers sell 10kg organic vegetables to retail A but our investigator is able to buy 20kg , then we know that the owner of the retail misuses our certificate." Under the present procedure, certified organic vegetables can be sold either through the Vegetable Marketing Organisation (VMO), or by  local farmers themselves. "Before distributing the organic vegetables to chain stores such as PARKnSHOP and Aeon, they have to undergo …

Health & Environment

License to Thrill

  • 2016-06-24

  by Isabella Lo & Ellen He     A boy sustained head injury when playing on an indoor trampoline recently, according to the Consumer Council's latest report. Unlike in the U.K., no license is required in Hong Kong for the operation of amusement park facilities. Trampolines are not a regulated "entertainment" activity under the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance, according to the The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). According to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) that regulates amusement park rides, trampolines are not amusement rides since they are not power-driven. Amusement rides are devices that are power-driven for driving or riding by the public primarily for amusement purposes, such as roller coasters, Ferris wheels and pirate ships, according to the EMSD. The FEHD told the Consumer Council that relevant international sports associations, such as federations for trampolines, have already set standards on the proper use of sports facilities. Lack of licensing requirement is not the only regulatory loophole revealed from the 178 complaints received by the Consumer Council during the past three years. According to the Council, most complaints are about service quality and safety concerns of both indoor and outdoor activities. Some operators may use a "disclaimer" to evade liabilities, misleading consumers to give up their right to redress, said the consumer watchdog. In the case of the trampoline injury, the accompanying domestic helper was asked to sign a Term of Use agreement when she bought the admission ticket for the child. She recalled those terms as purported to exempt the operator from all legal liabilities, according to the council. "The Control of Exemption Clauses Ordinance clearly stated that the court will only enforce the operator's exemption clauses when they are deemed fair and reasonable," said Dr. Chan Wai-hon Felix, a law professor from the …

Health & Environment

Green Tea: A Healthy Drink?

  • 2016-04-02

by Isabella Lo Vienna Lau Cheuk-lam has been drinking ten cups of green tea every week for three years. She believes it keep her fit and invigorated. "I feel re-energized after drinking green tea," said the second year student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  "It helps me a lot to concentrate on my studies." Vienna is among many Hong Kong people who drink up 1.42 kilograms of tea every year. This makes the city the 12th biggest tea consumer in the world, according to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO). However, recent studies have found drinking too much green tea may be detrimental to the reproductive system. In an article in the December issue of Journal of Functional Foods, researchers from the University of California, Irvine, discovered that a high dose of green tea can have adverse effects on reproductive development in fruit flies. In the study, fruit fly larvae were exposed to different doses of green tea polyphenols (GTP). It was found that larvae exposed to ten milligrams or more of green tea have slower development and are generally smaller in size than the controls. They also produce less offspring. "Experiments on insects like fruit flies are just a start," said Dr. Ko Ka-shun Joshua, pharmacologist at Hong Kong Baptist University. "It is not yet known whether green tea will have significant effects on humans." With various health benefits including delaying ageing, regulating weight, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, green tea has become one of the most popular drinks worldwide. The harvest of green tea has increased by 60 per cent in volume over the last decade, according to the Tea Association of USA. However, Dr. Ko suggested not to drink too much green tea despite its high antioxidant content. "A well-known antioxidant, vitamin …

Health & Environment

Antibiotics Tainted Food: Safe to Eat?

  • 2016-02-19

by Connie Fong & Cecilia Wong A ntibiotics were once seen as the miracle drug that saved lives. But today an expert calls for an antibiotics free period before animals are slaughtered due to years of abuse. "A withholding period during which livestock are not fed any antibiotics for 10-14 days before they go through food processing should be implemented," said Professor P. Reichel, Dean and Chair Professor of School of Veterinary Medicine, City University of Hong Kong. The World Health Organization, which recently organized the World Antibiotics Resistance Awareness Week, warned of a looming post-antibiotic era in which common infections and minor injuries may once again kill. "The concern of a post-antibiotic era is that we will eventually run out of effective antibiotics to treat diseases," said Prof Reichel. Medical researchers suggest that the Hong Kong government should ensure that antibiotics in food production are used in "the most effective and responsible manner". He explained that excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed have led to humans developing resistance to the drugs. "Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been increasing dramatically and their resistant genes are transferred to other bacteria," said Dr Albert Yu, Chairman of the Hong Kong Biotechnology Organization. "The media (of spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria) can be anything. We cannot get rid of the infection and we will run out of drugs," Dr Yu said. Around half of the antibiotics produced globally are used in agriculture, most of it used to promote growth and prevent illnesses rather than to treat diseases, according to the concern group Consumers International. Joining hands with the WHO, the Hong Kong Consumer Council has called on nine restaurants chains, including McDonald's, KFC and Subway, to disclose whether they use meat from animals fed on growth-promoting antibiotics. McDonald's Hong Kong responded that it has implemented the "McDonald's Global Policy on Antibiotic Use in Food Animals" since 2003 to ensure the use of antibiotics is limited to "medical purposes only". However, it did not not mention the amount or the frequency of antibiotics use in its food production process. Ms Yau Wai-Shan, a regular customer of …

Health & Environment

The Michelin Kiss of Death?

  • 2016-02-19

  by Tiffany Lui Not all Michelin-awarded restaurants in Hong Kong this year are rejoicing in the hope that the accolade might bring business. Some face the pressure of rising rent which may lead to closure. This phenomenon was coined by the media as the "Michelin's Kiss of Death". The Michelin Guide has been an index for excellent restaurants and food stalls since the 1900s. The 2016 edition of the Hong Kong and Macau Michelin Guide awarded 58 local restaurants and recommended 23 roadside food stalls. Since then at least two of those food stalls have been told by their landlords that their rents would go up immediately. Among them, Chiu Wing-yip, the owner of Kai Kai Dessert. "After we got the stars, the landlord increased our rent in the new contract by 120 per cent. That means we need to sell 5000 more bowls of sweet soups to cover the cost and I don't think we can make it!" Mr Chiu said. He said that the rising rent is definitely linked to Michelin but he is still happy to get the compliment. "We are very grateful to see people enjoying our food and Michelin has put a halo around our products." Mr Fu, a customer, goes to Kai Kai Dessert every week. He was shocked when he learned that the rent shot up. "I guess an increase of 15 or 20 per cent would be acceptable. But isn't 120 per cent a bit too much? No shop can afford this!" He is also concerned about the diminishing choice of local small food stalls. "I really don't know what to eat when all the shops near my home are McDonald's, Café De Coral and Maxims. I miss the fish balls and Cha Chaan Teng we used to have in Hong …

Health & Environment

Keep an Eye on the Risks of Lash Extensions

  • 2016-01-29

by Charlotte Yang The consumer watchdog is warning buyers of eyelash extensions to think twice about the possible risks before trying the increasingly popular beauty enhancements. The Consumer Council says the eyelash extension services offered by some beauty salons are not professional and are largely unregulated. The council says it received 10 complaints last year of unsatisfactory quality, including some customers who suffered eye infections. It cites the case of one woman who experienced pain and blurry vision after four weeks of treatment. An examination revealed that a piece of adhesive had entered her eye and inflamed it. "Concerns over eyelash extensions include infections, allergies, ocular surface irritation, and lash loss," says Dr Vishal Jhanji, director of the Refractive Surgery Service at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Eye Centre. And Dr Marcus M. Marcet, clinical assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Ophthalmology, warns that "adhesives used in these products can cause an allergic reaction, which can damage the eyelid skin.Also, bacteria can potentially grow in the fake lashes, leading to infections." Eyelash-extension services have grown in popularity because they help users achieve the look of longer, natural lashes, while reducing the time spent on daily makeup routines. "I can be lazy at times, when I don't want to put on any makeup. With eyelash extensions, I can look pretty without any makeup," says Ms Chloe Shen, a regular user of extensions. It takes between an hour to two hours for a specialist to adhere false lashes one-by-one to a customer's natural lashes using adhesive. Anywhere from 40 to 80 false lashes are glued to each eyelid, with prices ranging from about $300 to more than $1,500 for both eyes. Zoe Wong, area manager of Blanc Beauté Ltd, says the extensions usually last around three to four weeks, depending on care and an individual's lash-growth cycle. Dr Jhanji says "customers should check the ingredients, especially the adhesives used for the extensions, before receiving the service." But the Consumer Council says only …

Health & Environment

Does DNA dieting work?

  • 2015-02-24

Doubts over losing weight by eating foods that match one's genotypes   Amouth-swab test developed by Stanford University in the United States to help determine the dietary and exercise needs of the obese has found supporters as well as detractors in Hong Kong. The researchers took mouth-swabs from 100 women and analysed DNA for five genes linked to how the body uses fat and carbohydrate. Their findings allow dieticians to develop suitable diets and workout p l a n s for those who want to lose weight. The outcome of the study: women who  followed the diets matching their genotypes had almost 3 per cent average weight loss more than their counterparts who did not. This is because every person reacts differently to food intake and exercises, due to varying levels of sensitivity to carbohydrate digestion, saturated fat absorption, fat metabolism, exercise responsive and biologicial clock. Accordingly, dieticians will recommend a person with a high sensitivity to carbohydrates to adopt a low-carb diet that emphasises the consumption of protein, fibre and other essential nutrients such as meat, fish and eggs and vegetables. Ms Joanne Chan, a registered dietician working on this genetic testing programme in Hong Kong, backs this way of dieting. "The genetic evaluation result would give a clearer picture of your needs and it is backed by science," said Ms Chan. "Most importantly, it prevents you from randomly trying different methods that simply won't work." Ms Chan especially recommends this DNA diet programme to people who have tried various weight loss schemes but without evident success. According to Ms Chan, these people might have already "messed up" their metabolism. However, Ms Chan notes the importance of keeping a positive attitude when attempting to lose weight because knowing the genetic risks does necessarily guarantee the success of the programme. However, other medical professionals, including Professor …

Health & Environment

Sun-kissed to Curb Weight and Diabetes, study finds

  • 2015-01-10

Moderate amount of sun exposure could curb weight gain and halt the development of diabetes, a study from Australia has found.

Health & Environment

Traditional Chinese medicine may offer possible cure for fatal Ebola

  • 2015-01-10

Three plants extracts discovered to inhibit Ebola virus A local expert in traditional Chinese medicine has identified three plant extracts that may have the potential to combat the deadly Ebola virus.

Health & Environment

Take your power to the street

  • 2014-12-09

It is 2pm and scorching in Tin Sau Road Park, Tin Shui Wai. In a play- ground dominated by kids, a group of young adults, who call themselves "Barkids", are doing push-ups on bars. They are not playing but doing street workout: a sporting activity performed outdoors that athletes say helps build muscles and confidence. The World Street Workout and Calisthenics Federation, a Latvia-based non-profit, started the fitness craze that aims to improve people's health and quality of life. Its website describes the sport as "a social movement and a democratic sporting activity". Mr Simon Lee Cheuk-ming, 28, a trainer and founder of "Barkids", says: "I hope I can help promote street workout in the community." "Street workout is free, not restricted by rules, and at the same time, a spectator sport," says Mr Lee. Mr Ken Lai Kai-jib is an 18-year- old street workout enthusiast who triumphed in the Hong Kong Street Workout Championship 2014. He then represented Hong Kong in the Street Workout Championship held in Russia. "It's a challenge and target for myself," he says. "I gain a sense of satisfaction when I complete a move." Mr Lai says he got interested in the sport on seeing someone doing it three years ago, and then went on YouTube to look for its training videos. He started by doing basic physical training like push-ups. Then he pushed his boundaries by practicing the "human flag" – a static and continuous hold. But experts have cautioned against relying solely on online tutorials to learn the sport. Dr. Lobo Louie Hung-tak, a professor at the Department of Physical Education of Hong Kong Baptist University, is worried that young people without proper training might hurt their muscles in doing street workout. "There's a possibility that training a single move might affect the …