China Revamps Food Nutrition Labeling Regulations
On August 31, 2020, the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC), published the amendments of the mandatory food nutrition labeling standard -- GB28050-xxxx for public comments, due by October 20, 2020.[i] These amendments not only address various issues that arose from the implementation of the current GB28050[ii] adopted in 2011, but also help promote Beijing's long-term Healthy China 2030 policy.[iii] NHC proposed a range of changes in nutrition labeling to enhance the awareness of food nutrition among Chinese consumers and to provide more guidance for the food industry to promote and build a "healthier China". This article highlights two key areas, i.e., Front of Pack (FOP) nutrition labeling and declaration of nutrition information.
Front of Pack (FOP) Nutrition Labeling
FOP nutrition labeling has been on the legislative agenda of many food authorities around the globe. Now China, for the first time, introduces the FOP nutrition labeling concept in the revised standard for nutrition labeling, GB28050-xxxx. It encourages the industry to provide supplemental nutrition information on the front panel of the package to facilitate consumer understanding. It also offers flexibility for companies to properly design FOP nutrition labeling to help guide the consumers to achieve a balanced diet and reduce the consumption of fat, sugar, and salt. For example, the label can include the pictorial of China's Food Guide Pagoda for Chinese Residents[iv], which provides the recommended proportion of the different food groups in the diet, e.g., vegetables, salt, dairy, poultry meat, water, eggs, etc.
Nutrition labeling is mandatory for prepackaged foods in China (unless an exemption applies), but under the proposed nutrition labeling standard, FOP nutrition labeling is voluntary. Some international brands have elected to provide FOP nutrition labeling for foods sold in China. We anticipate this trend will continue.
Volunatary food serving sizes are now established by NHC in the revised standard with detailed guidance on how to determine the serving size for a specific food. Thus, industries selling into the Chinese market should be mindful of the local serving size when developing nutrition labels, including the FOP nutrition label.
Declaration of Energy and Other Nutrients
Under the draft nutrition labeling standard, a nutrition information panel in China shall declare the following:
Energy + protein, fat, saturated fat (or saturated fatty acid), carbohydrates, sugars, and sodium
Notably, saturated fat and sugars are the new nutrients subject to mandatory declaration. Labeling of the nutrition information is required to follow the requirements in GB28050, including calculation of nutrients, expression units, and rounding rules of nutrient content. NHC accordingly has put forth some changes to these requirements in the draft standard, some of which appear to be favorable to industry, but others, for certain foods, may be challenging. For instance, NHC mandates "zero" declaration in nutrition labeling when the nutrient content hits the corresponding threshold.[v] This is generally not the approach taken by other jurisdictions; instead, the law gives industry the option to decide if the specific content of the nutrient is declared or if "zero" is preferred.
NHC also proposes other revisions, such as nutrition labeling exemptions (e.g., alcoholic beverages containing ≤ 0.5% ethanol and < 0.5% sugar) and nutrition claims (e.g., new claims become permissible for α-linolenic acid, vitamin K, biotin, choline, and selenium). It is also worth noting that some claims have been removed due to insufficient scientific support, e.g., folic acid helps normal development of fetus.
One should carefully assess the text of the revised standard and utilize the public consultation time frame offered by China to submit comments or suggestions.