Food Labeling Contrast between China and EU Regulations (Part I)

Today I publish another useful article written by Quinn Hulk, Food and Drug Administration of Beijing – Food Law Advisor and our country contributor for China. You can contact Quinn Hulk directly via e-mail at hulkquinn@163.com.

1. Basic introduction

China National Standard GB7718-2011 General Rule for the Labeling of Pre-packed Foods (hereinafter referred to as GB7718-2011) was promulgated by the Ministry of Health (now National Health and Family Planning Commission of PRC) on 20-04-2011 and entered into force on 20-04-2012, repealing China National Standard GB7718-2004.

China National Standard GB28050-2011 General Rule for Nutrition Labeling of Pre-packed Foods (hereinafter referred to as GB28050-2011) was promulgated by the Ministry of Health (now National Health and Family Planning Commission of PRC) on 12-10-2011 and entered into force on 01-01-2013.

Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 was first published on 25-10-2011 and entered into force on the 20th day following its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. Considering the various situations among European nations and in order to allow transitional preparation, it sets out different dates for its application. Apart from 2 exceptions, point (l) of Article 9(1) and Part B of Annex VI, which shall apply from 13th Dec 2016 and became applicable from 1st January 2014, the regulation applied from 13th Dec 2014.

2. Scope

GB7718-2011 applies to the label of pre-packed food directly and indirectly provided to consumers. It does not apply to the package for the protection of pre-packed foods in transport and storage, unpacked foods as well as site-selling foods.

As for the unpacked foods, provisions available include Article 54 of Food Safety Law and Regulations on the Hygiene of Unpacked Food(a ministerial regulation still effective but not practicable, barely noticed anymore because it’s made in accordance with Food Hygiene Law, which has been repealed and abolished on 1st June of 2009, replaced by the old version of Food Safety Law

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011 applies to food business operators at all stages of the food chain. It applies to all foods intended for the final consumer, including foods delivered by mass caterers and foods intended for supply to mass caterers. It also applies to catering services provided by transport undertakings when the departure takes place on the territories of the Member States to which the Treaties apply.

Compared with Chinese regulations, Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011 has a much wider scope. It covers basically all foods at all stages.

3.

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011

List of mandatory particulars

Article 9

GB7718-2011

Labeling information of pre-packed food supplied directly to consumers 4.1

Name of food Name of food
List of ingredients List of ingredients
Allergens Recommended, not mandatory
The net quantity of the food The net quantity of the food and specifications
The quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients Quantitative indication of ingredients
The date of minimum durability or use by date Production date and quality guarantee period (shelf life)
Any special storage conditions or conditions of use Storage conditions
Name or business name and address of the food business operator Name, address, contact information of food manufacturers and food distributors
Country of origin or place of provenance
Instructions for use where it would be difficult to make appropriate use of food in the absence of such instructions
The actual alcoholic strength by volume for beverages containing more than 1.2% alcohol
Nutrition declaration Nutrition label
Product standard code
License No. of food manufacturing certificate
Other

indications

Ionizing radiation processed food or ingredients
Genetically modified foods
Quality grade if stipulated so in product standard

4.

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011

Presentation of mandatory particulars

Article 13

GB7718-2011

Basic requirements

3.9

In Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011, Article 13 requires that the x-height can be equal to or greater than 0,9 mm only when the largest surface of packaging or containers has an area of less than 80 cm2. Under normal circumstances, the x-height should be equal to or greater than 1,2 mm.

 

In GB7718-2011, the height of character should not be less than 1,8mm when the maximum surface area is larger than 35cm2. When the maximum surface area is larger than 10 cm2but less than 35 cm2, the height of character can be less than 1,8mm. The visibility and legibility should not be reduced nonetheless.
Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011 has a minimum size of character. GB7718-2011 doesn’t limit the minimum size.

 

5.

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011

Distance selling

Article 14

GB7718-2011

No such provisions

6.

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011

Omission of certain mandatory particulars

Article 16

GB7718-2011

Exemptions of particulars

4.3

List of ingredients and a nutrition declaration shall not be mandatory for beverages containing more than 1.2% by volume of alcohol, unless Union provisions require otherwise. Vinegar, salt, solid sugar, monosodium glutamate can be exempted from presenting the information of quality guarantee period together with alcoholic beverages which contain more than 10% by volume of alcohol.
Only the following information shall be mandatory for the packaging or containers the largest surface of which has an area of less than 10cm2.

(1)    the name of the food

(2)    any ingredient or processing aid listed in Annex or derived from a substance or product listed in Annex causing allergies or intolerances used in the manufacture or preparation of a food and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form

(3)    the net quantity of the food

(4)    the date of minimum durability or the “use by “date

The list of ingredients, however, shall be provided through other means or shall be made available at the request of the consumers.

Only the name of the food, net quantity, name and address of the manufacture (or distributor) are required when the maximum surface area is less than 10cm2.
For glass bottles intended for reuse which are indelibly marked and bear no label, ring or collar, only the following information are mandatory

(1)the name of the food

(2)any ingredient or processing aid listed in Annex or derived from a substance or product listed in Annex causing allergies or intolerances used in the manufacture or preparation of a food and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form

(3)the net quantity of the food

(4)the date of minimum durability or the “use by “date

(5) a nutrition declaration

No such provisions.
Nutrition declaration is not mandatory for the foods in Annex V, unless otherwise stipulated by Union provisions.  

7.

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011

Quantitative indication of ingredients

Article 22

GB7718-2011

Quantitative indication of ingredients

4.1.4

If the ingredient or category of ingredients is emphasized on the labeling in words, pictures or graphics, the quantitative indication of an ingredient or category of ingredients shall be required. If one or more valuable and characteristic ingredient or category of ingredients is emphasized in the labeling or instructions, the quantitative indication of an ingredient or category of ingredients shall be required.
No such provisions If it is emphasized that the content of one ingredient or category of ingredients is comparatively low or does not exist, the quantitative indication of the ingredient or category of ingredients shall be required.
If the ingredient or category of ingredients appears in the name of the food or is usually associated with that name by the consumer, the quantitative indication of an ingredient or category of ingredients shall be required. If the ingredient or category of ingredients is just mentioned in the name of the food and no emphasis is made in the labeling, the quantitative indication of an ingredient or category of ingredients is unnecessary.
If the ingredient or category of ingredients is essential to characterize a food and to distinguish it from products with which it might be confused because of its name or appearance, the quantitative indication of an ingredient or category of ingredients shall be required. No such provisions.

8.

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011

Date of minimum durability, ‘use by’ date and date of freezing

Article 24

GB7718-2011

Quality guarantee period

Annex C.4

Date of minimum durability Best before… It is highly suggested that you consume the food before…
Best before end… Consume the food best before…
Use by… Best before…
Frozen on… Best before the date….
Consume the food best before the date…
Quality guaranteed period until…
Quality guaranteed period…months(or days, weeks, years)

9.

Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011

Storage conditions or conditions of use

Article 25

GB7718-2011

The indications of storage condition

Annex C.5

In cases of where foods require special storage conditions and/or conditions of use, those conditions shall be indicated. Store in normal temperature.

Store in refrigeration.

Store in freezing area.

Store in dark place.

Store in cool and dry place.

To enable appropriate storage or use of the food after opening the package, the storage conditions and/or time limit consumption shall be indicated, where appropriate. Store in xx-xx℃.
Please put the product in cool and dry place.
Store in normal temperature and keep refrigerated after opening.
Temperature:≤xx℃,Humidity: ≤xx%

10. Article 13 of Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011 stipulates that food information shall be marked in a conspicuous place in such a way as to be easily visible, clearly legible and, where appropriate, indelible. GB7718-2011 does not have such provisions, which leads to the fact that many MSEs adopt cost-saving way to label the information. In law enforcement practice, we have found that many people (especially so-called ‘professional defective-food buyers’) deliberately erase the poorly labeled food information such as production date in order to extort money from big supermarkets by filing a report to local jurisdictional FDAs. Some supermarkets are likely to erase it and reprint a new production date, which is also illegal.

Overall speaking, Reg. (EU) No 1169/2011 provides a much more detailed and comprehensive provision concerning food labeling information. GB7718-2011 is comparatively less consumer-oriented, which contributes to the fact that local FDAs at provincial and city level are plagued by ‘professional defective-food buyersand spend most of the administrative resources on trivialities and are forced to leave the real food safety problems unattended due to high work burden, lack of food science knowledge and most of all, a bureaucratic system.

Brief overview on the Reg. (EU) n. 1169/2011, also known as FIC (“Food information to consumers”).

Following the requests of many of my “non-EU” readers, I publish a brief recap of the new provisions of the Regulation…and some links to useful resources.

As of 13 December 2014, new EU food labeling rules are in force: from this date became applicable the Regulation (EU) n. 1169/2011 on food information to consumers, also known as FIC or FIR Regulation. The aim of the new rules is to ensure that consumers receive clearer, more comprehensive and accurate information on food content, helping them to make informed choices about what they eat. The new Regulation replaces the old Directive 2000/13/EU, which is now repealed.

Some of the key changes to the labeling rules are outlined below:

  • Improved legibility of the information (minimum font size for mandatory information, now 1,2 mm in the most of cases);

  • Clearer and harmonised presentation of allergens (e.g. soy, nuts, gluten, lactose) for prepacked foods (emphasised by font, style or background colour) in the list of ingredients;

  • Mandatory allergen information for non-prepacked food, including those sold in restaurants and cafes;

  • Requirement of certain nutrition information for majority of prepacked processed foods (applicable from 13th December 2016);

  • Mandatory origin information for fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry (Reg. (EU) n. 1337/2014);

  • Same labeling requirements for online, distance-selling or buying in a shop;

  • List of engineered nanomaterials in the ingredients.

  • Specific information on the vegetable origin of refined oils and fats;

  • Strengthened rules to prevent misleading practices;

  • Indication of substitute ingredient for ‘Imitation’ foods;

  • Clear indication of “formed meat” or “formed fish”;

  • Clear indication of defrosted products;

  • Clear indication of added water, especially in meat and fish products.

The Regulation was published three years ago and provides a transitional period for exhaustion of stocks for foods placed on the market or labeled before 13 December 2014 (but this does not includes labels).

Despite food business operators have been given three years to ensure a smooth transition towards the new labeling regime for prepacked and non-prepacked foods, the situation is quite to be clear, especially for non-prepacked foods, where there is not a full harmonization and the EU Commission left space to national legislation.

On this side, there is also an ongoing study on the feasibility of a EU database to facilitate the identification of all EU and national mandatory labeling rules in a simple way. This should offer a user-friendly tool for all food business operators and for SME’s, but it will not be ready at least until the second part of 2015.

Recently, on the DG SANCO website, were published Guidelines related to the indication of the presence of certain substances or products causing allergies or intolerances as described in Article 9.1(c) and listed in Annex II of the Regulation. The document is the subject of a public consultation that will end on 4th January 2015 and it covers also some aspects related to non-prepacked foods.

On 31st January 2013, the EU Commission published the first – and until now unique – document of clarification of some specific provisions: Questions and Answers on the application of the Regulation (EU) N° 1169/2011 on the provision of food information to consumers. More Q&A and guidelines documents are expected to be published in the next few months: they will cover different topics, in particular general labeling, nutrition labeling, the QUID (Quantitative Ingredients Declaration) and specific products’ type (i.e. meat and fish).