Asian Regulatory Round-up: overhauls throughout the continent
By Asian Food Regulation Information Service regional manager Adrienna Zsakay
Let's start with the two powerhouses of Asia - China and India. Although there is a lot of activity in the rest of Asia, the sheer size and attraction of both these markets will always mean food companies will always be interested in what the regulators are up to.
For China the news is generally about food safety. There seems to be no end to the creativity exhibited by Chinese entrepreneurs in how to reduce costs or increase profits without a thought of respect to the rule of law. Although this may sound harsh, the good news is the Chinese government does recognize some weaknesses in the system.
The recent release of the Five-Year Food Safety Plan calls for coordination between 14 different government departments. In a recent statement released by the Chinese government, it stated, "Many of the regulations are overlapping or contradict each other, since multiple government agencies were given the responsibility of compiling their own standards years ago."
Whilst the government will be focusing on overhauling the 2,000 national food regulations and more than 2,900 industry-based regulations with an ambitious deadline of 2015, the concerns are really about enforcement.
Other improvements are in the legal language of Chinese regulations away from the opaque style open to interpretation by whoever is administering the law at the time.
India is overhauling its whole food regulatory structure from a completely different angle. The Indian government first established the Food Safety and Standards Authority, legislated the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, and then began dismantling old acts and regulations.
The Authority’s current agenda is on education, respect for the rule of law with a firm commitment that India’s food and agricultural base can integrate itself effectively in to the global trade of food. To this end, despite the mammoth task, India will succeed.
Under the Food Safety and Standards Act, there are six regulations covering various sections, such as Licensing & Registration of Food Businesses; Packaging and Labelling; Food Product Standards & Food Additives; Prohibition & Restriction on Sales; Contaminants, Toxins and Residues; and Laboratory & Sampling Analysis.
Although there are currently some weaknesses in the system, such as no regulations for dietary and health supplements or clear guidelines for marketing claims, the Authority has plans in motion to cover these areas whilst revising and amending the current regulations as necessary.
Across the region, Hong Kong recently passed the Pesticide Residues in Food Regulation to ensure food coming in from China remains safe. And the legislators in Guam are currently labouring through a 581-page draft of a new Food Code. From all accounts it may take some time before a final version is enacted.
Other recent changes, in a pro-active move, the Sri Lanka Ministry of Health is holding discussions with manufacturers in regards to formulating new regulations to reduce the amount of sugar and salt in food products. Meanwhile, Korea is slowing implementing place-of-origin food labelling for pork, chicken and kimchi. Country of Origin labelling already exists for beef and rice.
Staying in Korea, the Korean Food & Drug Administration is set to allow functionality claims in general foods rather than just supplements. As the current system is very limited, once the new regulations are implemented, Korea’s functional food market will soar.
Taiwan is another country that does take its food regulatory regime seriously. Regulators are always amending and monitoring their regulations and standards. Already this year, the Taiwan FDA twice amended the Pesticide Residue Limits in Food Standard along with amendments to the Sanitation Standard for Food, Utensils, Containers & Packages and Standard for Specification, Scope, Application & Limitation of Food Additives.
I have endeavoured to provide a brief overview of the regulatory landscape across the Asia Pacific region. It is a huge region with half the world’s population. Over time I shall introduce the rest of the region for you.