Ministry announces new ruling on 'novel fares'

By Shan Juan (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-19 06:51

A new regulation on "novel foods" will come into force on December 1, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday on its website.

It will supersede a ruling on such products introduced in 1990 and a regulation on genetically modified food, which some experts had warned failed to sufficiently protect the health of consumers.

The new regulation applies to companies and individuals involved in the production and trade of novel foods.

These are defined as food ingredients, which meet the basic criteria of food but do not have a significant history of consumption in China.

Novel foods have to undergo a series of strict procedures before the MOH will allow them onto the market, the regulation said.

The foods fall broadly into four categories: Animals, plants and microorganisms that are not often consumed in China; seldom-used food ingredients aside from animals plants and microorganisms; newly discovered microorganisms applied during food processing; and food ingredients whose structure has been modified by new techniques, the regulation said.

Given the fact that novel foods are usually just ingredients in ready-to-consume products, the public is seldom aware of what it is eating, Zhang Jian, a researcher with national institute of nutrition and food safety affiliated to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told China Daily.

For instance, not many people would know that sugar-free chewing gum gets its sweetness from Isomalt, Zhang said.

Isomalt is a solution used in sugar-free and low-sugar products such as boiled sweets, chewing gum and chocolates.

"The market for novel foods in China is still largely untapped, but it will surely grow as wealthy Chinese develop a taste for healthier foods, such as sugar-free products," Zhang said.

The regulation said the government encouraged the scientific research and development of novel foods as it wanted to add greater variety to the market.

Currently, there are some 340 novel foods on the market, but these might have to be reviewed to comply with the new rules, the ministry said.

To further drive the novel food industry, the regulation does away with complex approval procedures, while tightening food safety measures.

Health authorities will be required to conduct spot checks on producers and track the quality and safety of novel products, the ministry said.

Companies that overstate the medical efficacy of novel foods will be punished, it said.

(China Daily 07/19/2007 page3)

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