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Food Labelling & Advertisements:
Claims in relation to hormones and antibiotics
What other information should I know about hormones and antibiotics in food?
Why are antibiotics and hormones used in animals raised for food?
Like humans, animals need antibiotics to fight off bacterial infections. Approved antibiotics are used in food animal production to treat diseases and prevent infections in the animals. However, antibiotics are not allowed for growth promotion purposes in food animal production.
Certain hormones are used in animal production in some other countries to make growing cattle and sheep calves gain weight faster. Thus they help to reduce the waiting time and the amount of feed taken by an animal before slaughter. Hormones are however not used in poultry production as they are not effective in increasing the growth of poultry.
If hormones are not used, what are the reasons for the rapid growth rate in todays commercial poultry?
The main reason for commercial poultry getting bigger and growing faster is natural genetic selection. Scientists select chickens with better growth rates, more efficient feed conversions, and stronger immunity to diseases.
Secondly, poultry nutrition has improved over the years. Through nutritional research, the birds are able to be kept to specific target weights in terms of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals requirements to optimise performance and growth.
Thirdly, the birds are produced in better growing environment such as proper temperature, air quality, ventilation, lighting and feeder and drinker space to obtain optimum performance.
Thus, the right environment together with superior genetics and good nutrition yields a bigger bird that does not require the use of hormones.
How is the use of antibiotics and hormones regulated?
When animals are treated with antibiotics, a certain period of time must elapse (known as withdrawal period), before they can be sent for slaughter. This ensures that the antibiotic has done its job and passed out of the animals system. As a further safeguard, any residual antibiotics must not exceed the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) set by SFA. Compliance with this ensures that there is no food safety concern over any residual trace present in the food produced and do not contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. Many countries including Singapore have prohibited the use of hormones to promote growth in growing cattle and sheep. SFA does not allow the use of hormones in animals for export of meat to Singapore. Hormones are not useful in increasing weight gain of poultry and thus they are not used in poultry production
Should consumers buy food carrying claims like Antibiotic/Hormone free, Raised without antibiotics/hormones, Antibiotic/hormone free feed?
Meat and meat products that bear these claims are not any safer than those products available in the Singapore that do not carry such claims. All meat and meat products are equally safe for consumption regardless of whether they carry such claims. Consumers are advised not to be misled by these marketing claims.
Does SFA monitor for the presence of hormones and antibiotics in food?
The Singapore Food Agency has a strict inspection and testing regime to ensure the safety of both imported and domestic foods. For meat and poultry, and their products found to contain antibiotic residues exceeding the Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) or contain any synthetic hormone growth promoters, the consignment will be rejected at the point of import.
Are claims on the absence of antibiotics and hormones in food truthful?
Approved antibiotics are only permitted for use to treat diseases and prevent infections but not for growth promotion in food-producing animals. Farmers are required to comply with the specific antibiotics withdrawal period to ensure that no antibiotic residues or only trace levels below the Maximum Residue Levels (MRLs) are left in the meat and meat products when they are produced for supply to Singapore consumers.
Hormones are banned from use in growing cattle and sheep in many countries including Singapore. SFA does not allow the use of hormones in animals for export of meat to Singapore. On the other hand, hormones are not used in poultry production nowadays to promote growth in poultry. However, all meat and poultry, and their products contain small amounts of hormones even if the animal is untreated because all animals produce hormones naturally essential for their normal development and growth.
In this respect, the use of claims such as Antibiotic/Hormone free, Raised without antibiotics/hormones, Antibiotic/hormone free feed or claims that imply similar meaning are redundant.
Food Labelling & Advertisements
When is nutrition labelling required on food labels?
Nutrition labelling is required when a nutrition claim is made. The nutrition label is presented in the form of a nutrition information panel (NIP). The information to be declared in the NIP includes energy, protein, fat, and carbohydrate (4 core nutrients). The declaration of other nutrients is optional, but would be mandatory when such nutrients are the subject of a nutrition claim.
How should date marking be shown on food labels?
The date marking should be shown in one of the following ways:
a) USE BY (insert dd/mm/yy)
b) SELL BY (insert dd/mm/yy)
c) EXPIRY DATE (insert dd/mm/yy)
d) BEST BEFORE (insert dd/mm/yy)
Where can I find more information?
The details of the above information can be accessed from SFA's website home page at
, under the section "Most Read Legislation".
What are the food products that are required to carry a precautionary or warning statement on their labels?
The following food products are required to carry a precautionary or warning statement on their labels:
Royal jelly and food products containing royal jelly
For example, "WARNING - THIS PRODUCT MAY NOT BE SUITABLE FOR ASTHMA AND ALLERGY SUFFERERS."
Aspartame and food products containing aspartame
For example, "PHENYLKETURONICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE."
Do pre-packed food products require labelling?
Yes. All pre-packed food products for sale in Singapore are required to be labelled in accordance with the requirements of the Food Regulations.
What basic labelling information should appear on a food label?
The following basic information should be given in English on a food label:
common name or description of food;
complete statement of ingredients (in descending order of proportion by weight in which they are present);
volume or net weight;
name and address of :
local manufacturer, packer or vendor (for locally manufactured food); or
local importer, distributor or agent and the name of the country of origin (for imported food).
Items (a), (b) and (c) should be in printed letters not less than 1.5mm in height.
What constitutes a nutrition claim?
A nutrition claim is a representation that suggests or implies that a food has a nutritive property, whether in general or specific and whether expressed affirmatively or negatively. Examples of nutrition claims are: "Source of protein", "High in fibre", "Low in fat", "Cholesterol free" and "Sugar free".
What statements or claims are considered misleading and are prohibited for use in food labels and advertisements (including promotional leaflets and mass media)?
The following are some examples of misleading statements or claims that are prohibited to be used in food labels and advertisements.
A claim that a food has therapeutic or prophylactic properties, or implies in any way that it can prevent, alleviate or cure any disease or condition affecting the human body. For example, "Effective in preventing or curing cancer", "Lower the blood pressure" and "For longevity".
A claim that could be interpreted as advice of a medical nature from any person. For example, "Strongly recommended by doctors".
A claim that a food can improve health, physical condition or performance. For example, "A runner can run faster after consuming the food".
A claim that a food, which is intended for, babies is equivalent or superior to the milk of a healthy mother.
What are the types of pre-packed food products that are required to be date-marked with the expiry date?
The types of pre-packed food products that are required to be date-marked with the expiry date are stated on SFA's website. You may also refer to page 11 of the Guide to Food Labelling and Advertisements.
Genetically Modified Food Labelling
How can consumers in Singapore be sure that GM foods, if allowed for sale here, are safe for consumption?
Before a genetically modified (GM) food crop is allowed to be grown commercially for human consumption, the GM food crop has to undergo rigorous safety tests, carried out over many years. It will only be allowed to grow commercially when the safety tests show that the GM food crop is substantially equivalent to the conventional crop and is safe for human consumption. Food products made from such approved GM food crops are equally safe.
In Singapore, applications for the import or release of GM organisms (including GM food) are first evaluated by the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC) in accordance with the GMACs Guidelines on the Release of Agriculture-related GM organisms. GMAC is a national committee established in 1999 with the objectives to oversee and advise on the research and development, production, use, handling and release of GMOs in Singapore. Upon completion of the safety evaluation, GMAC will make its recommendations to the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the national food safety authority. GMACs endorsement of the GMO will be one of the criteria that SFA takes into consideration when granting the final approval of the application.
Why are foods produced from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) not labelled in Singapore?
GM food labelling is a complex issue and so far, international consensus has yet been reached. The Codex Alimentarius Commission, the international food standard body, is currently working on this issue. GMAC has also set up a subcommittee to monitor international developments on the matter and to formulate a labelling regime that will be both practical and meaningful. Meanwhile, it is not accepted by most countries that labelling is not for food safety reasons but to provide consumers with choice. While the labelling debate continues internationally, GMAC and SFA will work to ensure that GM foods commercially available are safe for consumption.
Are GM foods available in Singapore?
GM corn and soybean, which have been approved in many countries including the USA, Canada, Australia and member countries of the European Union, are very likely incorporated into various processed foods. Since we import food from these countries, it is possible that such foods are sold here in Singapore. However, these foods are safe for consumption because they are regulated like any other foods in meeting the same, if not more, rigorous safety standards.
Which authority regulates the labelling of GM foods in Singapore?
The SFA regulates the labelling of all food in Singapore. Currently, SFA is reviewing the requirement on labelling of GM food with the Genetic Modification Advisory Committee (GMAC).
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