At the end of 2019, the Chinese State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR) and the National Health Commission (NHC) proposed significant changes to two food labeling documents for public comments:

Both documents are mandatory for the labeling of prepackaged food produced in and exported to China. It should be noted that the proposed requirements by SAMR and NHC in the drafts do not appear to be fully aligned. For instance, SAMR’s Draft Measures require that a separate item “Food Additive” shall be made available in the ingredient list if the food uses a sweetener, preservative, color, emulsifier, or thickener; however, this is not required under the NHC’s Draft Standard. Therefore, further coordination between SAMR and NHC is expected to eliminate contradictory requirements like this and provide regulatory clarity to the industry.

SAMR and NHC have appeared to tighten certain labeling requirements, particularly ones that have involved past consumer complaints, for example:

  • NHC in the Draft Standard introduces new requirements for “negative claims,” e.g., “free of XXX,” “does not contain XXX,” or words with the similar meaning are prohibited if the substances are not permissible for use by pertaining regulations and standards. The claim “Non-GMO” is another example of a banned claim even if the food does not use any GMO ingredient.
  • SAMR in its Draft Measures proposes different rules of application for labeling information that is mandatorily and required by law versus one that is voluntarily declared by the manufacturer. Specifically, the information on the food package, other than the labeling information mandated by China, is subject to additional requirements set forth in the Advertising Law, Anti-unfair Competition Law and other regulations. For instance, if one wishes to claim on the label that the product is ranked the No. 1 organic milk in China, proper assessment and substantiation of such claim must be done in advance, not only based upon the food labeling legislation, but other applicable rules, e.g., advertising requirements.

Keller and Heckman attorneys have prepared a new China Regulatory Matters (CRMs) newsletter examining further details of the above two Drafts which can be found at Are You Ready for China’s New Food Labeling Requirements? Please stay tuned to the developments of the food labeling requirements in China by subscribing to our CRMs.