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China Passes Sweeping Amendment to Food Safety Law: The Most Stringent To Date

On April 25, 2015, China's amended Food Safety Law (FSL) passed by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The amended law, which some are calling the most stringent food safety law ever passed in China, will enter into force on October 1, 2015. The official version of the law is available in Chinese here.

Please note that, among other changes, the amended FSL imposes new requirements on food-contact materials. In general, the amended FSL reflects an overall trend toward strengthening food safety regulation in China by introducing many new regulatory requirements. These include not only general requirements applicable to food and food additives, but also specific requirements for food-related products (e.g., food packaging materials) as well as other product categories (e.g., GM foods, health foods, infant formula, etc.). Notably, the Law also establishes a reward system for whistleblowers, provided that the case is ultimately verified.

Food-contact materials and other food-related products are now required to undergo food safety risk evaluations with regard to biological, chemical, and physical risks. Chinese authorities are obligated to conduct risk assessments for potentially hazardous food-related products. No fees are associated with these assessments, and the authorities will also pay market price for any samples they obtain. Nevertheless, in cases where the food-related products are shown to be unsafe for use, relevant authorities under China's Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) and/or Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) have the authority to stop the production of these products.

Newly added Article 40 requires higher risk food-related products to acquire production permits per relevant administrative measures regarding production licenses for industrial products. The Law suggests that "high risk" materials would include food-contact materials. This will need to be clarified by the authorities, as it would seem unduly burdensome to require all producers of packaging materials in direct contact with food to acquire production permits. The amended FSL also subjects imported food-related products to closer monitoring and stricter quality controls. Revisions in the area of infant formula include a requirement for domestic infant formula milk powder manufacturers to file product information, including information on the packaging.

Importantly, although the draft revision to the Law released in October 2013 included a provision expressly prohibiting the use of recycled materials in the manufacture of food packaging and other food-related products, this provision has now been removed. However, the absence of an explicit ban on the use of recycled materials in the production of food packaging in the Law should not suggest that the Chinese authorities will generally permit the use of such materials in food packaging. There are existing regulations and Standards that prohibit the use of recycled content in certain applications.

Since the FSL is not intended to include all of the details as to how the new requirements will be implemented and enforced, there will no doubt be implementing measures that will be announced over the upcoming months. Such measures will allow the food and food packaging industry to better understand what steps will need to be taken to comply with the amended FSL. We will continue to monitor the situation, so stay tuned.