Asian Regulatory Round-up: GM labels and health claims
By Asian Food Regulation Information Service regional manager Adrienna Zsakay
Companies, especially fruit juice manufacturers, who export into Asia need to be reviewing their labels. Key countries are China, Indonesia and India, who are going to or have adopted new labeling regulations on nutritional content and GM foods, while also clamping down on marketing claims. In Indonesia’s case, there have been moves in helping imports, following the Jakarta port saga that has attracted so much international attention this year.
Indonesia has revised some regulations to accommodate an increase in domestic demand for horticultural products. Such products as onions, carrots, turnips, potatoes, chillies, bananas, citrus fruits, apples, and processed foods like jams, fruit jellies, fruit or nut pastes, and juices.
The country also has new regulations on GM products and additions to existing horticulture regulations to accommodate an increase in domestic demand. The National Drug and Food Control Agency (BPOM) issued its ‘Food Labeling Control of Genetically Modified Products’ and ‘Guideline of Food Safety Assessment for Genetically Engineered Product’.
Both these regulations are significant in the fact that the Indonesian government recognizes the growth of GM food products as part of maintaining food security. Therefore it has taken these steps to ensure consumers are aware and can make choices as the growth in GM food products becomes significant.
The BPOM also recently followed on existing horticultural laws by stipulating Horticulture Product Import Recommendation (RIPH), acknowledging that demand for fresh produce was outstripping supply. Important points in this regulation lie in the granting of the RIPH and the discretion of the Director General who considers production, consumption and availability of a similar domestic product.
Also, the legislations 42 and43 from the Minister of Agriculture Regulations, which regulate plant quarantine for fresh fruits and vegetables, went into effect on Jun. 19 2012.
Moving on with China, the new Nutrition Labelling of Pre-packaged Food Regulation comes into force on 1 January 2013. This standard prescribes the general principle and requirements of the labeling and declaration of nutrition components on the label of a prepackaged food, which is for direct-to-consumer use. Mandatory labeling requirements are energy and core nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate and sodium).
The nutrition label should be written in Chinese, and any foreign letters shall not be larger than the corresponding Chinese characters. Other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are only required when making nutritional claims; otherwise it is voluntary.
Appendix E provides clear guidelines on acceptable nutrition function claims. Standard function claims cannot be used unless the declared value of the content of a nutrient is in compliance with the claim conditions specified in Table D.1 of the regulation.
India’s GM labeling
Moving onto India, GSR 427 of the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Amendment Rules issued in June states, ‘Every package containing genetically modified food shall bear at the top of its principal display panel the words “GM”‘.
Other changes to packaging regulations are with dubious practices in weights and maximum retail price (MRP). For example, you buy a 100g packet of your favorite biscuit for INR10 (US$0.18). Next time this packet size is almost the same and the MRP is still INR10, only this time you get 89g. Until recently it was possible to conceal a price hike of 11% by just declaring “This is not a standard pack”. This method of declaring net weight and price ended on Jul. 1.
Staying with India and on a side note, the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSAI) recently held the Eighth Central Advisory Committee Meeting which really focused on the ongoing implementation issues of the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSS Act).
One important item was Agenda 11 which brought up the issue of product approval of health supplements, nutraceuticals, functional foods and the like. The record from the meeting concluded that companies manufacturing these products will have to obtain a license and apply for product approval in the prescribed format available. All licenses issued so far are void ab initio and can be prosecuted against.
The FSSAI also issued an advisory on misbranding and misleading claims in advertising. This was followed with the setup of a Reward Scheme asking people to convey intelligence or information by people who commit or are likely to commit violations of the FSS Act. The reward scheme is specifically aimed at ‘Mislabeled Food/Misleading Advertisement/Extravagant Claims’.