New mainland mandatory food labels will improve health

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 August, 2012, 2:28am


It is alarming that one-fifth of the world's population cannot be sure about what it is eating because it lacks a single law to ensure that people can easily find out what they are consuming and make informed choices. We are, of course, talking about mainland China and its ineffective voluntary code on nutritional labelling of food. That will change from January 1, when it will become mandatory for manufacturers of prepackaged and processed food to affix labels with standard nutritional information, including protein, fat, carbohydrates and salt content, as well as a calorie count.

This is to help consumers reduce the risk of developing chronic killer diseases, such as cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, cancer and diabetes. With increasing consumer purchasing power and growing market penetration of processed and packaged foods, Chinese people have become increasingly vulnerable to diseases more commonly associated with Western diets and lifestyles.

Without nutritional labelling and other effective preventive measures, the World Bank says the incidence of these ailments among people over 40 will double or even triple over the next two decades. Among an ageing population with an underfunded health system, that is a frightening scenario.

Diseases long regarded in the West as silent, devastating killers now account for more than 80 per cent of deaths on the mainland each year and nearly 70 per cent of the total disease load on the health authorities.

Food security, an abiding concern of many countries, has often been a matter of survival on the mainland, thanks mainly to climatic catastrophes. Amid increasing affluence, food safety, too, has become a life-and-death issue in the wake of melamine-tainted baby formula and other food-safety scandals.

But nutritional factors such as the links between excessive salt and hypertension, fat and cardiovascular disease, and excessive calories and obesity are already contributing to many more premature deaths.