Hot period for food labeling in China, indeed.
Beside the new draft GB 7718, SAMR had also released – on November 21, 2019 –the draft version of “Food Labeling Supervision Administrative Measures” for public comments (submission period lasted until December 20, 2019).
Food Labeling Supervision Administrative Measures have indeed a broader scope than GB 7718, as it also includes provisions about non-pre packed foods (such as bulk food, and made-and-sold-onsite foods), and health foods.
These Measures are a so-called ministerial regulation (部门规章), thus enjoy a higher hierarchical standard than GB 7718.
This means that – although GB 7718 remains de facto the cornerstone of prepackaged food labeling regulation – the content of these Measures shall also be considered and any conflicts between GB 7718 and these Measures may have an impact on the labeling.
While this draft will be modified and revised before its final, we hereby want to focus on some of its key content, highlighting also some potential conflict with current draft GB 7718.
As always, it will be of utmost interest monitoring how the final draft will be.
FONT AND GRAPHIC REQUIREMENTS
Imported food shall have label in Chinese directly pasted, printed or marked on the smallest sales unit during production; Chinese label therefore cannot be added at any later stage.
This seems a very important change, as now Chinese stickers can be printed and stuck on food package at entry port in China. However, current draft GB 7718 does not expressly require that Chinese labeling shall be implemented during production process.
For any mandatory labeling item, it is required that color of font shall clearly contrast with the background, with light-reflected contrast not lower than 70%. This requirement does not appear in GB 7718.
The minimum height of the mandatory text remains 1.8 mm. GB 7718 only sets such requirement when the largest surface of the package exceeds 60 cm².
For foods made from two or more food ingredients that are physically mixed and have a uniform appearance which are difficult to separate, the name should reflect the mixed attribute and classification of the food, and they should be named using the name of the two main ingredients.
When sweeteners, preservatives, colorings, emulsifiers, thickeners are directly used in the product, they should be labeled with their specific name in the ingredient list under the food additives item; while for other additives, they can be declared with specific name, class or code for other food additives. This provision seems to us conflicting with GB 7718 requirements, which set same labeling requirements for all additives (regardless their function) used as ingredients.
OTHER LABELING ITEMS
For foods with shelf life not longer than 72 hours, the production date shall indicate the hour (in a 24-h format)
Food product multi-layer-packaged shall be labeled with production date of the direct food contact pack.
Storage conditions for refrigerated and frozen products shall show the temperature range. This is not stressed as mandatory in GB 7718.
Re-packaged food shall be labeled with re-packer name, address, and the word “Repackaged”.
Moreover, the recently released draft for comment by customs on Administrative Provisions Registration of Producers of Imported Food may also impact on labeling, once implemented. These in fact require that the registration approval code of any foreign food producer shall be indicated on the label.
SPECIFIC GROUP OF PEOPLE
Claims or emphasis that a food product is specifically suitable for specific groups of people (infants, children, the elderly, pregnant women and others) are forbidden unless these claims are done in compliance with specific regulation applicable for those products or for those claims. This seems also likely to have a deep impact on marketing strategies of food companies.
MEAT SUBSTITUTE AND CLEAN LABEL
Foods that use plants as raw materials to imitate the characteristics of organs and tissues of other organisms should be preceded by the words “imitation”, “artificial” or “vegetable”, and labeled with the true attributes of the food classification name. In a moment where Chinese market is supposed to see a boom of vegetable protein and meat alternatives, this provision may have a significant impact on the industry and may provide visibility for food companies providing “vegetable milk”, “non-meat burger” and similar products.
Food manufacturers and operators are encouraged to carry out clean label operation, using as little or no food additives as possible. It is interesting to see this provision in the same moment when GB7718 basically bans any negative claim on additives.
Provisions about labeling of bulk food and made-and-sold-onsite food were not clearly identifiable, as they were scattered in several different pieces of regulations; now, these Measure finally contain and unify clear grounds for the labeling of these products.
Catering service providers who sell their processed food through display windows shall mark the date of food processing; the date of processing shall be marked to the hour and shall be marked on a 24-hour format.
Where food additives are used in food provided by food service operators, then the name, scope of application and amount of food additives used shall be noted on menu.
When selling food in bulk, a food business operator shall label the name, production date or batch number, shelf life, and name, address, and contact information of the food business operator on the container and outer packaging of the food in bulk.
Packaged edible agricultural products sold by food business operators shall be marked with the name, origin, producer, production date; shelf life is mandatory if expressly requested by specific product standards and in such case, if it depends on specific storage conditions, those shall also be labeled; if a food additive is used, it shall also be labeled.
LABELING OF HEALTH FOOD
Health food with small package (i.e. largest side smaller than 10 cm2) shall at least get labeled with health-food logo, product name, registration approval or filing code, net content, shelf life, warnings, storage condition, manufacturer name, production license number, and production date.
If the main display is not smaller than 100 cm2, the font height for mandatory labeling shall be not less than 6.0 mm; if it is smaller, the minimum font size shall decrease proportionally.
The logo, registration number and record number of the health food shall be marked on the main display page of the packaging of the health food.
The health food logo shall be marked on the upper left of the main display page in the same proportion as the pattern prescribed by the State Administration of Market Supervision and Administration, clearly and easily identified. When the surface area of the main display page is greater than 100 square centimeters, the width at the widest point of the health food logo shall not be less than 2 cm. When the surface area of the layout is less than or equal to 100 square centimeters, the width at the widest point of the health food logo must not be less than 1 centimeter. The registration number or record number of the health food shall be marked below the health food mark, and connected to the health food mark, and shall be clearly identifiable.
The date of production of health food and the date of shelf life shall be in sharp contrast with the background color of the location where it is easy to identify, except for those marked by laser.
Labeling of the shelf life of the health food is described using the method of 保质期至XXXX年XX月XX日 with no other expressions allowed.
Health foods shall be marked with information such as temperature, humidity and other storage conditions and methods in accordance with the contents of registration or filing.
The label of health food shall have a specific area for warnings on main display surface of the smallest sale packing (container), not smaller than 20% of the surface, with significant color difference with the background.
Service telephone number and service hours for complaints are also mandatory labeling items.