Better quality: China adds new requirements to product labelling and health food raw materials filling

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Health foods manufacturers operating in China will have to change the current warning sign “This product cannot replace medicines” to “Health foods are not medicines, they cannot replace medicines in treating diseases.” ©
Health foods manufacturers operating in China will have to change the current warning sign “This product cannot replace medicines” to “Health foods are not medicines, they cannot replace medicines in treating diseases.” ©

Related tags: China, Health food, regulations

Health foods firms selling to China will need to adhere to more product labelling requirements in January next year and new guidelines for raw material filling process will kick in from next month.

It comes after China’s State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR) announced new labelling guidelines for health foods and the use of health food ingredients for filing and functional health claims.

A major change is that health foods manufacturers will have to change the current warning sign “This product cannot replace medicines” to “Health foods are not medicines, they cannot replace medicines in treating diseases.”

The move is to better highlight the differences between health foods and medicines.

Deputy of SAMR Sun Mei Jun said:  “Although the current health foods labelling regulation requires firms to refrain from making disease prevention and disease treating claims, simply putting the phrase ‘This product cannot replace medicines’ [is not sufficient] and furthermore, because there is no standardisation on the font size and the position where the phrase should be, firms tend to print the warning sign at unnoticeable places, and the fonts are very small too.

“This in turn give rise to opportunities for fake advertisement and marketing tactics that rely on exaggerating the health claims.” 

She said consumers had feedback that it was difficult for them to notice the warning sign, thus causing them to fall prey to scams.

The new labelling guide has made clear a number of specifications.

Besides revising the warning phrase, the guide requires firms to place the warning phrase at the “main display area” of the product package. 

In fact, the warning sign should make up 20% of the product package’s “main display” area.

Next, the fonts need to be printed in black, so that consumers, especially the elderly can read the warning phrase clearly.

“From the feedback gathered, all parties believe that the warning phrase labelling sign would help to strengthen the enterprises’ sense of responsibility and help them to refrain from making untrue claims for monetary gains.

“This also helps to protect the consumers’ right to knowledge…helping them to make more rationale purchasing decision,” ​Sun said.

In addition, firms are required to add other crucial information, such as customer complaint hotline and the operating timing of the hotline service.

Product expiry date

In addition, SAMR said the new guidelines also set standards on how to label the product expiry date.

In this case, firms need to present the information in the following way: Product expires on YY/MM/DD – which is the same as how the production date is being labelled.

The product expiry date needs to be easily noticeable on the packaging, such as using colours that contrast with the packaging to highlight the expiry date.

The standardisation seeks to address consumers’ feedback, which includes difficulties in spotting the expiry date, and unclear information such as “the product is valid for six months”. 

Raw materials filing process

SAMR has also announced a new set of guidelines to the process of health foods raw materials filing and functional claims use.

With the new guidelines, any individual, enterprise, scientific research agencies, and social organisation can make suggestion on raw materials eligible for the filling process and new functional claims by providing scientific evidence.

This new guideline will come into effect from Oct 1. 

SAMR believes that tapping on the resource of a wider community will help to speed up the process of expanding the raw materials directory. 

Once the new guidelines are officially implemented, the authorities will announce the type of raw material eligible for filing and newly approved functional claims every time when there is new approval.  

The new guidelines will also incorporate an exit mechanism for raw materials which are later linked to safety and efficacy issues.

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