Recently, the Food Safety Office of the State Council (the “Office”) and nine other departments jointly issued the Notice on the Program of Overhauling Fraudulent and False Advertising of Food and Dietary Supplements (the “Notice”). The Notice outlines a special program (the “Program”), which aims further to tighten the administrative measures, and crack down on any fraudulent, misleading or false advertisement of food and health food. The Program has been implemented and will be in operation until 30 June 2018.

The Notice addresses certain specific behaviours which are the targets of the Program:

  1. producing, importing or distributing food and health food without a license;
  2. indicating false information on the label of food and health food;
  3. illegally promoting or selling food and health food via the internet, conference marketing, TV shopping, direct selling, telemarketing and other fraudulent methods;
  4. publishing advertisements for health foods without inspection or publishing illegal advertisements for food and health food; and
  5. other illegal activities involving fraudulent and false advertising of food and health food.

The Notice also clarifies the legal responsibilities and liabilities of the parties involved, including the manufacturers, distributors, importers and third-party platform operators of food and health food. According to the Notice:

  1. food (including health food) manufacturers shall manufacture and distribute food in accordance with laws and regulations. The legal representatives of food manufacturers are the principal responsible persons for food safety issues;
  2. food distributors bear direct responsibility for the food and health food they distribute and should have systems in place to ensure the food’s quality and safety;
  3. third-party platform operators shall review the license of food distributors and will bear corresponding legal liabilities for any illegal acts of distributors which were conducted whilst using the platform;
  4. advertisers, advertising agents or advertisement publishers shall strengthen the review process of the content of the advertisements and will be liable for consumer damage caused by the illegal advertisements published;
  5. food importers shall be liable for imported food's quality and safety. They shall recall any related products and report to the relevant authorities immediately if they find the imported foods do not meet quality and safety regulations.

The Notice especially emphasises that all the above parties have an obligation to ensure the authenticity of the labels and advertising of food and health food.

The Program shows the Chinese government’s determination to administer strictly fraudulent and false adverting of food and health food to safeguard consumer rights. Special attention should be paid to food and health food which is imported into China.