Malaysia health ministry criticizes 'banana milk' product for misleading claims on social media
2020-01-22 14:20 Wednesday
Malaysian has pledged that it will do more to curb unverified claims used by nutrition companies on social media when it comes to products such as health snacks, nutraceuticals and functional food, according to a statement from the Asia Pacific country's Ministry of Health (MOH).
The MOH said it will work closely with social media platforms to block all nutrition product adverts that make unsubstantiated health or wellness claims that are a direct violation of Malaysia's own national food law.
According to a statement from the ministry, they will be working alongside social media companies to ensure compliance with the Food Act 1983. That prohibits content and claims that could "mislead consumers" such as statements that indicate a product can treat, cure, prevent or reduce any disease.
Breaking the law could lead to a penalty of up to RM10,000 (U.S.$ 2,405) or a maximum of two years in jail.
The MOH's director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said: "The Ministry is formally warning all retailers or agents of food products in violation of the law to halt all adverts and broadcasting on social media. Every consumer is also advised to be wary and not be misled.”
He further stressed that the department was working alongside social media sites to prohibit any access to such platforms if they try to promote offending food products.
He remarked: "The Ministry is working with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and the administrators of platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to block the websites and pages of any products found to be in violation of the act.”
"To date, around 103 sites and social media pages have already been blocked," he added.
The public announcement was made in part as a response to the furor caused by a brand of flavored milk which was widely named in the media as Nilofa Banana Milk. The brand had made the claims of being high in fiber and able to "remove toxins from the body". It was also advertised as able to "reduce blood pressure" and "reduce obesity".
Dr Noor Hisham said: "We take the illegal selling and advertising of the banana milk product on social media, digital media, print media, flyers and others very seriously."
"Statements such as reducing blood pressure, removing toxins, increasing metabolism, controlling insulin, reducing obesity and so on are forbidden on food labeling and in adverts."
Several of the claims by the firm at the centre of the storm were promoted by the popular Malaysian actress Neelofa. The companies and the actress involved have since removed many of the statements.
Initially, Neelofa was reported to have featured in an interview saying the MOH only "advised the company to improve packaging", but the company did "not take any further action because no such claims were made on the actual carton of the drink.”
Users around the Asia Pacific region took to Twitter to criticize those involved for false advertising. They pointed out that the milk's list of ingredients and nutritional label contained no mention of either actual bananas or "added fiber". Many called for an answer to the question of where the "high fiber" and "toxin removal" claims were from.