China Announces Draft Standard on Nutritional Fortification Substances: What Will its Impact Be on Alternative Protein Foods?
China’s National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA), on January 19, 2023, published the long-awaited draft food safety national standard, GB14880-XXXX, addressing the requirements for the use of nutritional fortification substances (NFSs) in food. The draft standard introduced a range of new changes compared with the currently effective version of GB14880, which entered into force in 2012. This article takes a closer look at the draft GB14880-XXXX and how its food classification system will impact the future approvals of alternative proteins, such as cultured meat and plant-based foods.
GB14880 is a mandatory food standard in China, which stipulates the rules pertaining to the use of prescribed nutrients and other nutritional substances across different food categories. For instance, if one is interested in adding vitamins and minerals in a food for the purpose of fortifying nutritional values of the food, they should first review GB1488 to confirm whether these vitamins and minerals are permissible for the food category capturing this specific food, and if so, the minimum and maximum levels, if any, set out in the standard. If no permission is provided, such use of minerals/vitamins needs to be preapproved by the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) through filing new food additive applications.
Under the food classification system of the draft GB14880-XXXX, it appears only Food Category (FC) 04.04.01.05 may be directly relevant to alternative products, which refers to “novel bean products (soybean protein puffed food, soybean vegetarian meat, etc.).” However, there are no nutrition fortification substances that are authorized for this food category under the draft GB14880-XXXX, meaning one cannot add any NFSs without NHC’s preapproval.
Some plant-based foods currently sold in China refer to FC 04.04.01.05 as their product classification. The nutritional value of plant-based foods is a common question raised by consumers and media. Nutritional profiles of animal-derived meat with the plant-based meat are often compared. For instance, one article pointed out that “Vitamin A is approximately 20 times more bioavailable in animal-based food than plant-based foods,” and “plants don’t contain Vitamin D3 (the form our body needs).” Therefore, the plant-based food industry may want to supplement certain nutrients by adding nutritional fortification substances.
Apparently, the existing provisions under the Chinese food fortification standard fall short of such need. Other alternative proteins such as cultured meat, seafood, dairy, etc., may encounter similar issues as plant-based foods when it comes to nutrition fortification because no NFSs are explicitly authorized for their use, which is not surprising given that no cultured meat, etc., is commercially available yet in China. Thus, one needs to file applications with NHC to clear the use of NFSs, substance by substance, which is not only economically burdensome but also not efficient. Therefore, the consultation on the draft GB14880-XXXX in China may be a good occasion for industry to consider measures that may be taken by the alternative protein industry, collectively, to draw attention from the authority regarding this potential hurdle to work out a better regulatory environment for industry to develop.
There has been some discussion in China exploring modifications and new rules under the current food regulatory framework to accommodate the rise of new alternative protein foods, so now is the time for industry to engage with the authority. After CFSA’s consultation, it is expected that China will further notify the draft GB14880-XXXX to WTO for the international community to review.
We will continue to monitor the situation and report back on the developments related to this draft standard and other updates related to alternative protein foods. In the meantime, if you are interested in submitting comments or have any questions on the above, please contact David Ettinger (email@example.com), Jenny Xin Li (firstname.lastname@example.org), or your existing contact at Keller and Heckman LLP.
 Please contact us if you are interested in more details regarding these new requirements for the use of nutritional substances in food in China.