Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has called on meatball manufacturers to enhance their transparency with regards to the types and amounts of meat used in their products, after testing found no crustacean DNA in any of the “lobster balls” sampled.

The Consumer Council published a report into the make up of 60 meatballs on Monday. As well as testing the 10 “lobster balls,” some so-called beef balls were also found to contain pork or chicken.

Consumer Council Nora Tam
Chairperson of Research and Testing Committee Consumer Council Nora Tam. Photo: Consumer Council.

According to the report, one of the pre-packaged lobster balls sampled listed “lobster” as an ingredient. Only two indicated that their products were not made from real lobster, calling them “lobster-flavoured meatballs” or “imitation lobster balls.”

The council sent the DNA test results – which were conducted for the first time – to the Customs and Excise Department for investigation into whether the samples were in breach of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

Meatballs inspected by the Consumer Council. Photo: Consumer Council video screenshot.

“It is reasonable for consumers to assume and interpret that meatballs should contain the type of meat or seafood as named. However, the Council performed animal DNA tests on the meatball samples based on their namesake meat and found that all lobster ball samples were not detected with any crustacean DNA for lobsters,” Monday’s report read.

The watchdog conducted tests on 20 beef balls, 10 gong wan (described by the Consumer Council as “pounded meatballs”, a variety typically known to contain pork), 10 fish balls, 10 cuttlefish balls and 10 lobster balls. Among the samples, 24 were pre-packaged.

lobster ball
Lobster balls sampled by the Consumer Council. Photo: Consumer Council video screenshot.

Of the beef products sampled, only seven contained 100 per cent cow DNA. The others were found to contain pork or chicken, some with a higher proportion than beef. Certain manufacturers also failed to state on their packaging that their products contained pork or chicken.

“Consumers with religious food taboos or personal dietary needs should pay extra heed
to avoid accidentally consuming certain types of meat,” the council said.

Beef balls
Beef ball samples tested by the Consumer Council. Photo: Consumer Council video screenshot.

Citizens were reminded to consume meatballs in moderation, as the council said 45 samples were high in sodium – meaning they carried more than 600 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams of food. Four samples of gong wan and two beef ballshad “high-fat” levels of 20 grams of total fat content per 100 grams.

Concentrations of heavy metals were also detected in seafood-based meatballs, 15 out of 30 of which contained mercury or methylmercury. Expectant mothers were told to “pay extra heed,” as the council warned that methylmercury can have negative impacts on the development of the fetal nervous system.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.