Hong Kong has ordered more popular Japanese snacks to be pulled from supermarket shelves after they were found to contain an unapproved sweetener which some studies have linked to cancer and other health problems.
Twelve more products were pulled from sale on Wednesday night, bringing to 16 the number of snacks considered off limits because they contain stevioside, which is not approved for consumption in Hong Kong, a government spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Manufacturers have confirmed that 14 products contained stevioside, while two other products were suspected of having the additive, a plant extract far sweeter than sugar but with no calories.
"We don't rule out removing more products later. We are monitoring the situation and will check to see if there are other products containing stevioside," said the spokeswoman from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.
Manufacturers and retailers have worked around the clock to recall the 16 products, 15 from Japan and one from China.Hong Kong's action comes after some of the products were removed from sale in Singapore after labs there found they contained stevioside.
Japan's Health Ministry has said the artificial sweetener was approved as a food additive in the country last year, and that it did not plan to take any other action.
The Hong Kong government has said the additive has not gained international endorsement as a safe artificial sweetener.In the United States it can only be sold as a dietary supplement. The Food and Drug Administration maintains that there have not been enough studies into any potential side effects, especially if it is used frequently or in large amounts.
Shares of Ezaki Glico, which manufactures some of the removed items, fell 16 yen or 2.41 per cent at 648 on Wednesday on the news, while Nissin Food Products ended up 10 yen or 0.41 per cent at 2,440, off a low of 2,415. Glico has said it will no longer sell the recalled items in Hong Kong but added it had no plans to drop the additive since it was legal in Japan.