China labelling guidelines could foster industry self-regulation

China's new nutrition labelling guidelines for pre-packaged foods which come into force this month could kick-start industry self-regulation, an industry consultant has said.

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EAS Asia adviser Jie Hu said that while the guidelines would be mandatory for companies using nutrition labels or claims on their products; those that do not have nutrition labels or claims on their products may be well-advised to consider voluntary compliance, pre-empting possible further legislation down the road.

The guidelines, which came into force on May 1, states that the Ministry of Health may in accordance with the needs of the consumers, set further mandatory nutrition labelling for certain types of food.

"China has introduced this for a number of reasons ? to guide consumer choices towards a more balanced diet, to promote nutrition-related education, and to standardise food labelling to facilitate trade," said Ms Hu. "Industry self-regulation, such as voluntary compliance with the guidelines, could play a huge role in ensuring that the authorities do not decide in the future that there is a need for further legislation."

According to the guidelines the amounts of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium should be expressed on the product label (in that specific order) per 100g or 100ml, or per serving as quantified on the label. Labelling the amount of fat acids, sugar and vitamins and minerals in the product remains optional. The guidelines also require companies to label their products' nutrient contents as a percentage of the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV).

Additionally, the guidelines set labelling requirements for claims that are made on products (with a few exemptions) including restrictions on font size and the positioning of certain claims on the package.

Ms Hu said: "Of course nutrition labels must be written in Chinese. If a foreign language is used in addition, the font size of the foreign language should not exceed the font size of the Chinese on the label."

Companies that market products in China using nutrition labels, nutrition claims or health claims on their products, have a two-year grace period to comply with the guidelines (deadline, 30 April 2010).

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