China passes novel foods regulation

Companies involved in the production and trade of novel foods in China will face tougher safety rules from December 1 after the Chinese government ratified legislation aimed at improving the quality of what are essentially novel food ingredients. Both local and Western companies dealing in functional ingredients that do not have a long history of use in China will be affected by the regulation that establishes four (somewhat ambiguous) broad categories:

  1. animals, plants and microorganisms that are not often consumed in China
  2. seldom-used food ingredients aside from animals plants and microorganisms
  3. newly discovered microorganisms applied during food processing
  4. food ingredients whose structure has been modified by new techniques

Zhang Jian, a National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety researcher affiliated to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the regulation would improve ingredient quality and better inform consumers of the contents of the foods they consume.

"The market for novel foods in China is still largely untapped, but it will surely grow as wealthy Chinese develop a taste for healthier foods, such as sugar-free products," Zhang told China Daily, citing isomalt as an example of a sweetener that would have to go through the process and face greater labeling requirements.

It is estimated there are more than 340 novel foods on the market that will come under the scrutiny of the regulation. The Chinese government stressed that it is in favour of these foods, encouraged research and development and wanted to see more of them on the market.

The regulation does indeed simplify the approval process while simultaneously tightening safety measures. Plant spot checks will increase and misleading claims will be more stringently policed.

In a separate move some see as a reaction to the flak China has been receiving over the quality of its food and food ingredient exports, Californian supplements maker, Jarrow, had a whey protein formula it was exporting to China rejected by the Chinese General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine which cited? "toxic levels of selenium."

Jarrow founder, Jarrow Rogovin, was at a loss to explain the quarantine as regions in China fortify the food supply with selenium. "The accusation against our company was due to either an unfortunate lack of understanding about selenium food chemistry or an unfortunate error in political judgment," he said.?

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