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HK McDonald's fined for banned sweetener
Updated: 2004-12-15 08:59

Fast food giant McDonald's was fined HK$7,000 (US$897) for selling a condiment that contained a banned sweetener in its Hong Kong outlets, officials said Tuesday.

Officials found that the restaurant chain's Honey BBQ powder --- to be eaten with French fries --- contained the artificial sweetener stevioside, which some studies showed might be carcinogenic and is banned in Hong Kong.

On Monday, McDonald's pleaded guilty in court to selling the product in its Hong Kong restaurants and was fined HK$7,000, said Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokesman Sam Hui.

However, McDonald's Hong Kong office said in a statement that there was no conclusive evidence showing stevioside harms people's health.

Still, it said the company promptly removed the product in December 2003 once it became aware of the problem.

"We deeply regret the occurrence of the incident," McDonald's said, adding that "measures are in place to ensure that food and ingredients destined for the Hong Kong market are in full compliance with all local regulations."

Stevioside is 250-300 times sweeter than cane sugar, and its source, the stevia plant, is commonly used as a sweetener in South America and Asia.

Stevia and stevioside are banned for sale as food or food ingredients in the European Union. The United States permits stevia only for use as a dietary supplement or in skin care.

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