New development on food packaging in China

22 April 2010

Grace Chen, Lei Sun

On 6 November 2009, the Ministry of Health, together with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Commerce, the Administration for Industry and Commerce; the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the State Food and Drug Administration, issued a joint notice entitled the “Notice on Carrying out the Work on Clean-up of Food Packaging Materials” (the “Notice”).  The promulgation of the Notice is one of the steps being taken by the Government to reform the food industry and to implement the Food Safety Law that was promulgated on 28 February 2009.

The Notice, which is addressed to the local counterparts of the seven issuing ministries, calls for industry and enterprise to work together to promote the use of safe food packaging materials.  Steps to be taken include halting the use of any food packaging materials that may be harmful to human health, fighting against the use of toxic and hazardous substances, particularly the scrap and waste materials that are illegally used in the manufacture of food packaging and food containers.

The Notice also requires all relevant government departments to take a proactive stance in this effort by providing guidance to industry and enterprises in accordance with relevant regulations and existing standards for food packaging materials (“Catalogue of Current Effective Standards of Food Packaging Materials”, attached as Annex 1 to the Notice), investigating and taking steps to correct any existing illegal practices. 

Industry and enterprises are also expected to take part in these tasks by submitting forms (New Varieties of Food-related Products Application Form and New Varieties of Resins Used for Food Packaging Materials Application Form, attached as Annexes 2 and 3 to the Notice) recommending materials that are not listed in the current standards and do not pose any food safety concerns for inclusion in the “recommended for approval” list; as well as identifying materials that are deemed to have a certain level of toxicity or otherwise pose harm to human health for inclusion in the “recommended for prohibition” list.  The industry associations will compile such lists and submit them to the Nutrition and Food Safety Department of China’s Center for Disease Prevention and Control. 

The Ministry of Health will work in conjunction with the other ministries to organize a panel of experts which will make scientific assessments of the submitted recommendations and to formulate lists of allowable and banned food packaging materials on the basis of the results of such assessments that will be issued to the general public.  Furthermore, the panel of experts are expected to make timely revisions of and to perfect the safety standards, for food containers, packaging materials and additives used in relation thereto. 

The Notice calls for the relevant government departments to perform their supervisory duties in a diligent manner, and encourages members of the general public to report any illegal acts involving the manufacture or use of food packaging materials.  The Notice further states that the Government shall undertake to conduct targeted investigations in response to such reports and provide for severe penalties to be imposed on entities or individuals that continue to use substances listed in the “List of Substances Banned for Food Packaging Materials” after its publication.   

The Notice represents a step taken by the Government in its effort to promote food safety and to ensure consumer health.  It calls for all relevant government departments to work together to set up an effective mechanism to monitor the use of the food packaging materials in the manufacture, distribution and food consumption processes in order to encourage enterprises to develop corporate integrity and to strengthen their internal self-policing mechanisms in order to promote the healthy and normal development of China’s food industry.