Issuing Body: State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine

Issuing Date: February 27, 2012

Effective Date: June 1, 2012

To further the implementation of the PRC Food Safety Law and Administrative Measures on Imported and Exported Food Safety (summarized in our June 2012 update), the State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine ("AQSIQ") issued the Administrative Regulations on the Inspection and Supervision of Labeling of Imported and Exported Pre-packaged Food (the "Labeling Regulations") in February 2012 to better regulate the labeling for imported and exported prepackaged food. The regulations became effective on June 1, 2012.

The Labeling Regulations are administered by AQSIQ and local import-export inspection and quarantine bureaus and apply to both imported and exported prepackaged food.

Labels of imported prepackaged food are required to comply with the requirements of the relevant laws and regulations of China and applicable national food safety standards (i.e., Label Standards for Prepackaged Food "GB 7718—2004").

Labels of exported prepackaged food are required to comply with the relevant laws, regulations and standards of the importing country. However, if there is no requirement specified by the importing country, the labels must instead fulfill the corresponding Chinese laws, regulations and national food safety standards.

When prepackaged food is imported for the first time, the importer or its agent is required to submit the following documents on labeling to the local import-export inspection and quarantine bureau together with other required documents for inspection:

  1. A sample label and its translated version;
  2. A sample label of the prepackaged food in Chinese;
  3. A photocopy of the business license for the importer, distributor or agent as listed on the label;
  4. Corresponding supporting documents in the event the labeling emphasizes certain items such as an award, certification, statutory production area, geographical marks, or emphasizes the inclusion of special ingredients;
  5. Other certificates or documents as required.

For exported prepackaged foods, the documents submitted for inspection are simpler, as these exports will be mainly regulated by the importing country. The Labeling Regulations require the exporter or its agent to provide the following:

  1. A sample label and its translated version;
  2. A statement declaring the fulfillment of the requirements specified by the importing country.

Upon receipt of the above application documents, the local import-export inspection and quarantine bureau will inspect the label format and layout, and will conduct a compliance test for the contents indicated on the label. The contents compliance test will be made together with daily import and export inspection and quarantine work, not separately.

If the Chinese label of prepackaged food imported for the first time passes the above labeling inspection, the local import-export inspection and quarantine bureau will issue a document to certify that the Chinese label is filed.

If the imported or exported prepackaged food fails the labeling inspection, the local import-export inspection and quarantine bureau will notify importers or exporters. If the nonconforming labels can be corrected, the importers or exporters can make such corrections under the supervision of the local import-export inspection and quarantine bureau. However, if the labeling nonconformities are not fully remedied after correction, the prepackaged food will not be permitted to be imported or exported and may be destroyed by the local import-export inspection and quarantine bureau.

When the prepackaged food that has passed the labeling inspection is imported again, the filing proof issued by the local import-export inspection and quarantine bureau and the label samples in both Chinese and foreign language must be provided.

Article 17 of the Labeling Regulations permits importers or exporters of pre-packaged food to apply for exemption from the labeling inspection:

  1. imported and exported food for non-trade purposes such as samples, gifts, complimentary gifts or exhibits;
  2. food imported for duty free business (other than duty free food for outlying islands);
  3. food imported and exported for self-use by embassies or consulates;
  4. food exported for self-use by personnel of Chinese enterprises stationed abroad.

In recent years, Chinese government has been making a concerted effort to improve food safety. In this effort, imported and exported food has received particular attention in the wake of a series of imported and exported food scandals. The promulgation of the Labeling Regulations represents a concrete step to improve the safety of imported and exported food by requiring the provision of true and accurate information on labels.