The Significance of China’s Latest National Food Safety Standard Plan

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The Significance of China’s Latest National Food Safety Standard Plan

The Significance of China’s Latest National Food Safety Standard Plan  

by Mingyi Liu, Analyst/ GIC Group

China’s latest plan for the development of its Safety Standard (食品安全国家标准) was released by the National Health Commission (国家卫生健康委员会/ NHC) in early June to solicit public comments. A total of 41 entries covering standards for food additives, products, operations, and inspection methods has been listed in the Plan, with nine of them marked as “development” and the rest as “revisions.”  In keeping with established procedures, each specific entry will be subject to further research by state-owned medical institutes prior to full-scale, nationwide implementation by 2027.

What can be expected from interpreting the Plan? Normally, the Plans reflect the government’s latest intention for next-step-taking, not just in the field of food safety regulation but also in its overall scope. By comparison with the existing standard, as well as Plans that came early on, there could be even more significance in the revision beneath the surface. Here let us have a quick look at the Plan and its implications.

According to the introduction, the Plan was intended to “give priority to areas that are most urgently required by industry or for the purpose of risk minimization and control.”  While the bulk of the Plan devoted to revisions and updating of earlier entries, there are new entries targeting new products and exogenous factors which impinge on food safety and quality such as adverse climate changes.

One of the products worth mentioning is Thaumatin, a relatively new natural protein sweetener in Chinese food production and widely used in Japan and the West for some years. The protein is extracted from one particular type of fruit, grown in West Africa.  The fruit contains a high sweetener concentration with lower calorie ratios, making it an ideal ingredient for diet foods and drinks. Thaumatin has been one of the few sweeteners that has its name listed in the National Standard, and the only one of the protein sweetener family that is allowed in the Chinese market. Within one year of the listing, the NHC added Thaumatin as a food ingredient, subject to surveillance and compliance in food processing. Targeting the sweetener is an indication of the commercial importance of Thaumatin in China as a potential substitute for Erythritol.  Undoubtedly, the new consumer preference for Thaumatin reflects rising interest among younger Chinese in fitness and healthy nutrition.

Another notable item in the new Plan is an expanded FSMP (Food for Special Medical Purpose) listing covered by regulations. The NHC has been adding entries related to FSMP within its Plans over the past four years after the formal recognition of these products in the National Standard. Based on the definition provided by the National Medical Products Administration in 2016, FSMP refers to nutritious food formulas that are dedicated to facilitating the treatments of 13 specific diseases. Seven entries have already been listed in previous Plans; in 2022, food for bariatric surgery, an increasingly popular type of treatment for weight loss, was added. Whereas the detailed regulations concerning FSMP are already found in the European and American standards, as well as CODEX Alimentarius, FSMP regulatory standards have only recently been applied in China. It is speculated that the intention of the government is to take control of the FSMP market and to foster the growth of domestic industries via the implementation of regulations that are possibly favorable to the latter.

Aside from the safety and quality concerns addressed in the new Plan, there are also inherent macro climate change issues underscoring the latest initiatives. There are three development entries in the Plan that are pertinent to the determination of fungal infection within food products, which might be seen as risk minimization/ control measures in response to the global trend of rising temperatures. In 2019 the state media, Xinhua News, quoted a study from Loyola Marymount University to underscore the rising concern for food-borne diseases resulting from the proliferation of fungal toxins exacerbated by higher temperatures. The latest listings will strengthen tracking and surveillance capabilities and are likely to be followed by other listings responsive to climate change challenges.

The new Plan’s listings may also have been prompted by COVID, designed to reinforce China’s “zero-COVID” policy. According to the Plan, a number of the regional disease control centers have also collaborated in the research and preparatory analysis for the Plan’s expanded listings. Given the continued threat of the COVID and future pandemics, we can expect continued expansion of the Plan’s listings and regulatory compliance procedures.

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