Under the General Rules on Pre-packaged Food Labelling (GB7718) implemented on 1 October 2005, it is mandatory for production enterprises to provide information on the quality (including safety) of their food products. The General Rules stipulate that the following information must be given on the food label: name of the food, list of ingredients, net content, content of drip dry matter, content of solid matter, name and address of manufacturer, date of manufacture or packaging, expiry date, and product standard number.
The language used in food labelling must be standard Chinese. Chinese pin-yin can be used at the same time but the spelling must be correct and the font size must not be bigger than the corresponding Chinese characters. Minority language or foreign language can also be used at the same time but must be a correct translation of the Chinese and the font size must not be bigger than the corresponding Chinese characters. All writings, symbols and graphics used must be direct and easy to understand, and their colour must be in contrast with the background colour. The food label must not be detached from the container. The measuring units used in the food label must comply with the statutory measuring units adopted by the mainland.
Name of food - while manufacturers can use any "creative name", "unique name", "transliterated name", "brand name" or "trademark name" on the food label, they must also show the name of the food as stipulated in national standards or industry standards in positions nearby. Where no national standards or industry standards apply, the common name or generic name of the food product which can reflect the true characteristics of the food and does not mislead or confuse the consumer must be shown.
Particulars of manufacturer and distributor - under the General Rules, the particulars of the food production enterprise must be shown on the food label. Food products just showing the city or county where the factory is located are considered non-compliant. Wheat flour, rice, corn starch, white sugar, white sugar icing, table salt, tea leaves, dried mushrooms, foodstuff with medicinal effect (such as Chinese wolfberry) etc produced and packaged in the mainland must indicate the name and detailed address of the production, packaging, re-packaging or distribution unit. Bulk processed products (e.g. edible oil, milk powder, wine etc) imported from abroad and re-packaged in the mainland must indicate the name and address of the re-packaging unit in the mainland as well as the name of the country of origin.
List of ingredients - apart from food products with a single ingredient, all other food products must be marked with an ingredient table on their label under the heading "Ingredients" or "Ingredients Table", listing all the ingredients in descending order in terms of amount. If an ingredient is a compound ingredient consisting of two or more substances, the name of the compound ingredient must be given in the ingredients table with its primary substances listed in descending order in terms of amount in brackets. For sweeteners, preservatives and colourings, their actual names must be given. For edible packaging materials (e.g. capsules, rice paper candy wrappings), their primary ingredients should also be listed in the ingredients table.
Net content - the net content should be marked on the same surface of the packaging or container as the name of the food. Liquid food should be indicated in terms of volume; solid food should be indicated in terms of mass; semi-solid food should be indicated in terms of mass or volume. For containers containing both solid and liquid food (e.g. canned pears in sugar water), in addition to indicating the net content, the content of drip dry food (solid matter) should also be indicated in terms of mass or fraction of mass.
Date of manufacture and expiry date - the manufacture date is the ex-factory date of the food product upon production and passing inspection by the manufacturer. For frozen drinks (e.g. popsicles and ice creams), the date of manufacture must be shown on the external packaging box (carton). The General Rules require that most food products must starkly indicate their expiry date. However, for alcoholic drinks with an alcohol content of 10% or more, edible vinegar, table salt, monosodium glutamate, solid edible sugar etc which do not turn bad easily, it is not necessary to show the expiry date.
Product standard number - pre-packaged food manufactured and sold in the mainland (not including imported pre-packaged food) should indicate on its packaging the code and serial number of the national standard, industry standard, local standard or approved enterprise standard adopted by the enterprise. The marking of a higher standard or misrepresentation of the standard adopted will result in the banning of the food product concerned from the market.
Marking for GM food - food products subject to the Measures for the Administration of Genetically Modified Agricultural Products Labelling issued by the Ministry of Agriculture must indicate in their labels that they are GM food. Examples include soya bean powder, soya bean oil, corn oil, corn starch, rapeseed oil, rapeseed, fresh tomato and tomato sauce.
II. Administrative Provisions on Food Labelling
The Administrative Provisions on Food Labelling went into effect on 1 September 2008 replacing the formerRegulations on the Investigation and Handling of Food Labelling Violations issued by the Former State Technical Supervision Bureau. While the General Rules on Pre-packaged Food Labelling are a set of national standards, they do not include any penalties for violations. The Administrative Provisions on Food Labellingprovide for penalties governing the violation of labelling rules.
The General Rules on Pre-packaged Food Labelling mainly govern the labelling of pre-packaged food, whereas the Administrative Provisions on Food Labelling govern the labelling of all food products. Although a large part of the contents of these two sets of rules are basically similar, the Administrative Provisions on Food Labelling embrace more detailed regulations on the content of certain labels.
Added Mandatory Content
For food products made up of two or more kinds of food by means of physical mixing such that the appearance is uniform and inseparable, their name must reflect the mixed characteristics and the names of the ingredients. For food products using edible animal or plant as raw materials, produced using special processing technique, and produced to simulate the body, organ or tissue of other living beings, the words "artificial", "imitation" or "vegetarian" must be put in front of their names, and the names of the ingredients of the food products must be given.
The place of production of the food product must be given in terms of prefectural city level according to the administrative region. The food label must indicate the name and address of the manufacturer. The name and address of the manufacturer should be the name and address of a legally registered manufacturer which is able to bear liability for product quality.
For food products produced by manufacturers commissioned to produce processed food but are not responsible for sales, the name and address of the commissioning enterprise should be given on the food product. For food products subject to production licensing management and the commissioning enterprise possesses a commission processed food production licence, the name and address of the commissioning enterprise and the name of the commissioned enterprise should be given, or only the name and address of the commissioning enterprise can be given. For sub-packaged food, the name and address of the sub-packager should be given, and it must be marked on the label that the food is sub-packaged.
Products mixing edible and non-edible products in the same package which can easily mislead consumers and may cause personal injury due to improper use must bear a warning sign or warning statement in Chinese on their food labels.
In the event of the following two conditions, a statement in Chinese must be given on the label: (1) it has been clinically proved that the food product can easily cause harm to specific groups; (2) it has been stipulated in laws, regulations and national standards that other statements in Chinese must be given.
The following content may not be shown on the food label:
1. Explicitly or implicitly claiming that the product can prevent or cure disease;
2. For non-health foods, explicitly or implicitly claiming that the product has health benefits;
3. Describing or introducing the food products in a deceptive or misleading way;
4. Content of the product manual attached which cannot be proved;
5. Any wording or drawing disrespectful to national custom or discriminatory;
6. National flag, national emblem or the renminbi note;
7. Other contents prohibited by laws, regulations and product standards.
The following illegal acts of food labelling are prohibited:
1. Falsifying or fraudulently indicating the production date and expiry date;
2. Falsifying the place of production or falsifying or passing off the name and address of another manufacturer;
3. Falsifying, passing off or altering a production licence or number;
4. Other acts prohibited by laws and regulations.
III. Regulations on the Administration of Food Nutrition Labelling
The Regulations on the Administration of Food Nutrition Labelling, formulated by the Ministry of Health, were implemented on 1 May 2008. At present, the state encourages food enterprises to provide nutrition labels for the food products they produce. The Ministry of Health will, based on the implementation of the regulations and the health needs of consumers, confirm the type of foods and nutrition facts subject to mandatory labelling as well as the implementation timetable.
Nutrition labels must use the Chinese language. If a foreign language is used concurrently, its content must be the same as that of the Chinese. The font size of the foreign language may not be larger than that of the Chinese characters.
The content of the nutrition facts must be listed in the form of a table, the size of which may vary. The position of the table can be perpendicular to the baseline of the packaging. The standard format of the table should comply with the provisions set out in the Food Nutrition Facts Labelling Standards.
The content of the nutrition facts must be prominently displayed on the packaging.
For packaging with a usable label area of less than 20 cm2 or for particularly large packaging, horizontal (level) labelling may be used.
The font and colour of the nutrition label must be clear, but the font size of the nutrition claims may not be larger than that of the generic name and trademark of the product.
The nutrition facts should be listed in descending order in accordance with the provisions in the Food Nutrition Facts Labelling Standards. In the case where there are quite a lot of nutrition facts, the labelling of energy and core nutrients should be prominently displayed.
For food products with an external packaging (or bulk packaging), the nutrition facts only need to be marked on the external packaging (or bulk packaging) delivered to the consumer, but the net content of each item must be marked on the internal packaging (or container).
The nutrition facts table is a table listing the name and quantity of the nutrients of the food product. The nutrition facts given in the table include energy, nutrients, water content and food fibres. When food enterprises give the nutrition facts, nutrition claims, and nutrient functions on the food label, they should first give the four core nutrients (i.e. energy and protein, fat, carbohydrate, and sodium) and their contents.
In addition to the above nutrition facts, the food nutrition label can also contain a list of saturated fat (acid), cholesterol, sugar, food tissues, vitamins and minerals.
A content claim refers to the claim of the content levels of the energy or nutrients of the food product. Wordings in such claims include "contain", "high", "low" or "no". A comparison claim refers to the claim of comparison with the nutrient content or energy value of similar food products well known by the consumer. Wordings in such claims include "more" or "less". A nutrient function claim refers to the claim that certain nutrients have the function of maintaining normal human growth, development and physiology.
The following pre-packaged food may be exempted from giving a nutrition label:
1. Food products with a daily consumption volume of less than 10 g or 10 ml;
2. Packaged raw meat, raw fish, raw vegetables and fruits;
3. Food products with a total packaged area of less than 100 cm2;
4. Food products prepared and sold on the spot;
5. Food products with an alcohol content of more than 0.5%;
6. Other food products stipulated by laws, administrative regulations or food standards that labelling is not required.