Food labelling debate heats up

Posted by Editorial on 14th May 2008

China has finally implemented new legislation which will result in standardised nutrition labelling on packaged foods which already have nutrient levels on them.

Companies can still decide not to put any nutritional labels on their products, however, but, if they do put labels on, they must adhere to the guidelines.

Currently there are no guidelines for companies at all when it comes to food labelling in China meaning manufacturers can selectively choose which information to put onto their products. This is in stark contrast to Australia where label guidelines have been constantly updated to protect Australian consumers. Companies have until 2010 to comply and the laws dictate labels must show levels of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates and sodium per 100 ml/grams. The labelling of sugar content was surprisingly left out of the guidelines.

The standardised food labelling in China is designed to assist consumers in making healthier choices and also to facilitate trade.

The news from China comes as they seek to indicate to the world that they are a country that is aware of food safety. They have steadily been improving their regulations to promote this image in the wake of numerous concerns about past failings in this area.

The issue of food labelling has been a topic of much discussion around the world this year. The European Union is now taking a closer look at food labelling with proposed legislation to standardise food labels across all EU member states. The draft proposal, outlined in January, has been the source of much debate since. Canada’s food labelling has also been under fire with issues regarding the true meaning of the “Product of Canada” label. At the moment the label is allowed on any product if 51 per cent of production costs were incurred in Canada, consequently leading to some imported food being allowed to be considered a “Product of Canada”. The former Head of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency last week labelled the system as “awful” and indicated it undermined competition.

The Chinese decision might not go far enough but at least it is a major step forward for a country that has often been lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to regulation of the food industry.