Key Points:

  • Establishes commission to streamline interagency coordination and eliminate gaps
  • Ministry of Health and other government agencies to share responsibility for monitoring and testing food
  • New rules for food additives, imports and foods making health claims
  • Violation penalties sharply increased  

In light of growing unrest over food safety, China has made great efforts to strengthen regulations related to food, additives and other consumer products. The farthest reaching of these, the Food Safety Law of the People’s Republic of China (“Food Safety Law”), officially adopted at the seventh meeting of the Standing Committee of the 11th National People’s Congress on February 28, 2009 takes effect on June 1. The Food Safety Law governs the manufacturing, processing and distribution of food, additives, food packaging materials, containers, detergent, disinfectants, tools and equipment in relation to food manufacturing or distribution. The summary below provides highlights.

Administration Authorities

Currently, approximately 10 government departments and ministries with overlapping duties monitor food safety in China. In the absence of an effective coordination system, those authorities have been blamed for unresponsiveness to food safety problems.

Under the Food Safety Law, a Food Safety Commission (“FSC”), whose primary duty will be to streamline interagency coordination and eliminate administration gaps, will be established by the State Council. The Ministry of Health (“MOH”) and its local counterparts will be responsible for appraising food safety risks, drafting food safety standards, disclosing food safety information and investigating food safety incidents. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (“AQSIQ”), the General Administration of Industry and Commerce (“AIC”) and the State Food and Drug Administration (“SFDA”) and their local counterparts will be responsible for overseeing food safety in accordance with their duties.  

Active Monitoring System

A food safety monitoring system will be established to actively monitor the presence of hazardous ingredients in food, food-borne diseases and food contamination. The MOH and its local counterparts will develop a monitoring plan that, it is believed, will require government agencies to take action not only after food safety issues are uncovered through consumer complaints or exposed through media publicity, but also to carry out regular daily testing and supervision to detect safety risks.

Food Standards

The MOH will be required to review, screen and integrate various existing statutory food quality and hygiene standards at the farm level with compulsory industry standards and develop and issue unified national food safety standards. Such an approach will help eliminate conflicts among different standards and provide clearer guidance to food enterprises. Reportedly, MOH has placed a priority on drafting or amending standards pertaining to pesticide residue, hazardous and poisonous contaminants, food additives and milk products. The opinions of food manufacturers and distributors, as well as consumers, will be weighed in developing national standards. If there is no existing national or local standard for a specific type of food, its manufacturers will be permitted to work out their own standards, to be recorded with the local counterpart of the MOH.  

Food Additives

Food additives will no longer be permitted unless they are both necessary and proven safe. Labels and instructions relating to food and food additives may not indicate that the food or additives prevent disease or have a therapeutic effect. These restrictions will make it difficult for food manufacturers to develop and sell new products using questionable health enhancement claims based on its additives.  

Food with a Health Care Function

The Food Safety Law stipulates that any food product for which health claims are made be subject to strict oversight. Labels and instructions for preparation or use of such foods must specify the name and amount of their ingredients and who can safely consume the product.  

Food Inspections and Tests

As expressly stipulated in the Food Safety Law, no food can be exempted from safety inspections and tests.  

Imported Foods  

For imported foods to which no existing PRC national food safety standard applies, and additives and food products being imported for the first time, importers are required to submit import applications and materials for safety appraisal. The MOH should organize their safety appraisal within 60 days of acceptance of the import application and determine whether to grant the import permit following the appraisal.

AQSIQ is required to issue an alert or take controlling actions regarding any food safety incidents that occur abroad but that may have a bearing on food safety in China, as well as any serious food safety problems detected in imported food, and report them to other appropriate PRC authorities.

Overseas exporters and their agents that export food to China, as well as overseas food manufacturers exporting food to China, are required to register with AQSIQ, which will periodically publish an updated list of recorded exporters and agents and registered overseas manufacturers.  

Liability  

The Food Safety Law sharply increases violation penalties, compared to the PRC Food Hygiene Law it replaces. The maximum penalty assessed could equal 10 times the monetary value of the products involved. In addition, if market and fair sponsors and renters of counter space used for selling takeaway food fail in their obligations to monitor the safety of the food they sell, they will be subject to joint and several liability for any food safety incidents taking place at their market, food counter or fair. This joint and several liability will also apply to any social entity or individual recommending food to consumers via fraudulent advertising.