The latest standards issued by the Chinese Ministry of Health (MOH) around food packaging additives is only one “piece of the puzzle”, according to a legal expert from US law firm Keller and Heckman.
The MOH has announced plans to revise GB 9685 “Hygienic Standards for Uses of Additives in Food Containers and Packaging Materials”.
The proposed revision was included in Announcement No. 512, which lists 82 national food safety standards projects that MOH intends to take on this year.
The standard is only relevant to food packaging additives, and is not a comprehensive food packaging standard.
There are a large number of food packaging standards, with more on the way and the revision to GB 9685 will impact most of them, Mark Thompson, associate at legal firm Keller and Heckman, told FoodProductionDaily.com.
MOH's announcement states the standards projects should be completed by 30 June, 2013.
Change for the better
Thompson said China’s attitude to compliance in terms of packaging material is changing for the better.
“Some companies here are not as concerned with brand name as they are in Western countries, but that is changing.
“There is a gradual trend toward regulatory compliance, particularly when dealing with multinational companies, which are very conscious of regulatory requirements."
At present, if a food packaging additive is not officially approved, it may not be used by manufacturers, said Thompson.
Standards are enforced by the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ).
“Food packaging additives are governed by China's GB 9685 Standard, but other administrative approvals have been issued as well.
“Chinese standards are typically revised every four or five years and a new version of GB 9685 is expected in the next year or two.”
The national food safety standards projects comprise of five parts: basic standards, food products, food additives, specifications of production and operation and inspection methods.
The standards include enactment of standards for polystyrene, mineral oil, and polyethylene glycol (PEG) from the China Food Additives & Ingredients Association.
In basic standards it outlines health standards for additives of food containers packaging materials need to be revised by the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment.
“Part of the issue with the melamine scandal a few years ago was that those actions were already illegal, but certain actors did it anyway,” Thompson said.
“MOH has spent a considerable amount of time on these, and has already approved a number of safe and suitable substances for packaging applications.
“In many cases, China is more strict than other packaging authorities worldwide. It is not a case of them not being strict enough, it is just not all companies adhere to the rules that are in place.”
The MOH is reviewing the remaining petitions, which are expected to be published by the end of 2012, alongside a negative list of substances that are prohibited from being used in food packaging.
He added: “The standard will be revised further per those comments, so it's unclear how long it will take to finalize the standard, as it really depends on the number and nature of the comments received.
“China's food packaging regulation is a complicated area as there are a large number of relevant standards. GB 9685 is just one of them, but many people believe that all food packaging in China is governed by GB 9685. This is not true.
“When the new version of GB 9685 is published, it could temporarily serve as a complete positive list of additives. However, new approvals for food packaging materials will continue to be published on the MOH website.
"They will be incorporated into the GB 9685 standard next time it is revised.”