Food nutrition labels a must from next year

In a move designed to reduce the risk of chronic non-communicable diseases, the government says prepackaged items must bear standard information

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 4:15am

All prepackaged food must be labelled with nutritional information from next year in a bid to reduce the risk of chronic non-communicable diseases.

The new rule, effective from January 1, requires food manufacturers to provide standard nutritional information on labelling, including protein, fat, carbohydrate and sodium content and calorie count.

It is the first time the central government has mandated the listing of such information on labels; a guideline issued five years ago was only on a voluntary basis.

"The implementation of the regulation plays a signature role in guiding the public to choose food reasonably, promote a balanced diet and reduce the risks of non-communicable diseases," said Su Zhi , the director of the Ministry of Health's Food Safety Co-ordination and Supervision Bureau.

A report by the World Bank last year said the number of non-communicable diseases - chronic problems such as cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, cancer and diabetes - among people aged 40 and above would double or even triple over the next two decades if effective prevention strategies were not implemented. They account for more than 80 per cent of deaths on the mainland each year and 68.6 per cent of the total disease burden dealt with by the health authorities.

Diet has a major impact on chronic non-communicable diseases - with sodium linked to hypertension, fat to cardiovascular diseases and too many calories to obesity - but Su said a survey had shown that mainlanders' diets were high in salt, fat and calories, making it difficult to prevent or treat non-communicable diseases.

"The nutrition information will help the public make reasonable choices and reduce intake of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium while increase ingestion of dietary fibre," he said. "It is a good measure to prevent chronic diseases related to diet."

Yang Yuexin , a nutrition expert with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the request was "tailor-made" to tackle chronic non-communicable diseases.

The health ministry has done a great deal of research on the public's awareness of nutrition labelling, the feasibility of making labelling mandatory and whether regulatory agencies were capable of implementing it.

Yan Weixing , a researcher with the China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment, said the new regulation would give consumers the right to know the nutritional content of food.

Yan also said that pesticide residue would not pose any threat to humans if it was kept within normal ranges and its risks were fully gauged before use.

The remarks followed a report by the Securities Market Weekly last week that 10 wine samples from three Chinese wine-makers contained excessive levels of pesticide residues, high doses of which can cause infertility issues and lead to liver cancer.

Wine-maker Changyu said all its products met national standards.