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China Solicits Comments on Food Labeling Standard

On January 19, 2024, the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) released the third version of the draft GB7718 General Rules for the Labeling of Pre-Packaged Foods for public consultation[1]. The comment period will end on February 29, 2024. 

This consultation draft proposes significant changes to the current GB 7718[2], which has been in operation since 2011. These proposed changes, once finalized, are likely to have substantial impact on the labeling practice for both locally produced and imported foods. We summarize below some of the most noteworthy key changes in the draft GB 7718 and encourage companies to review the draft in more detail to assess the specific implications on your foods and food ingredients sold in China.

New proposals for imported foods 

This draft proposal introduces a new chapter focusing on food labeling to clarify the rules specific to imported foods. It requires that labeling information visible to consumers, in a foreign language or traditional Chinese, also must follow the Chinese laws, regulations, and food safety standards. In this regard, compared with the draft issued in 2019, this version specifically targets labeling information visible to consumers, rather than all labeling information. In other words, using stickers to cover non-compliant labeling information in the original foreign language on the package may be deemed acceptable.

More specifically, for foreign declaration, if it is among mandatory labeling items, the draft GB7718 maintains the current requirement of one-to-one correspondence in Chinese; however, if the labeled information is optional but remains visible to the consumer, it also must be represented in Chinese according to the draft GB 7718. The distinction between “one-on-one correspondence” (for mandatory labeling information) and general correspondence (for other visible labeling information) is not specified in the draft GB 7718. It remains to be seen how this will be interpreted in practice.

To align with the newly enforced facility registration requirements for imported food, this consultation paper requires the facility registration number to be incorporated in the Chinese label.

Notably, this draft GB 7718 also proposes changes to the country of origin (COO) declaration based on the customs’ interpretation of this issue. For example, when more than one country is involved in the food production, the country where the last substantial transformation carried out is considered the COO[3]. Further, for food manufactured and filled/sub-packed in different countries, both COO and filled/sub-packed countries should be declared on the label. Also, the draft adds a new provision which expressly allows the declaration of the country/area of origin of used ingredients. 

Allergen labeling becomes mandatory

Labeling of allergens, e.g., cereals containing gluten, milk, and dairy ingredients, including lactose, which is only recommendatory in the current GB 7718, becomes mandatory in the draft with some exemptions outlined in Annex D. The draft also encourages the voluntary declaration of allergens resulted from cross-contamination by using the term “may contain…”, etc.

Changes to the date labeling

Per the draft, declaration of production date and shelf life, which can be made in any order under GB 7718-2011, must be carried out in the order of year, month, and day only. 

For foods with a shelf life of one year or longer, their production date can be omitted from the label. Notably, the draft also permits the voluntary declaration of “storage period,” which refers to the date or deadline by which foods remain safe for consumption after the declared expiration date. This change responds to China’s policy of reducing food waste. 

Detailed restrictions with food claims

Food claims are under strengthened supervision in the draft labeling standard. Claims such as “free…,” and “not contain…” will not be permitted for food additives, contaminants, and substances whose presence in food is not allowed in the first place. For instance, if no artificial colors are permitted in a specific food in China, the label of such food would not be allowed to carry claims such as “free of artificial colors.” In the meantime, claims such as “…not added” and “…not used” are also prohibited unless prescribed otherwise. 

Another notable change is that food claims are classified into general claims[4], nutrition claims and claims concerning the nutrition effect[5], claims concerning the health effects of food ingredients, and health function claims[6]. “Claims concerning the health effects of food ingredients” are permitted for substances that are “traditionally considered as both food and Chinese medicine” and those “possess the effect of reducing the risk of disease occurrence,” provided that established requirements are met[7]. While China maintains a list of substances that are traditionally considered as both food and Chinese medicine[8], it remains to be seen whether there will be a list of ingredients designated as “possessing the effect of reducing the risk of disease occurrence.” The State Council is expected to enact new rules in this regard. 

Digital label introduced

For the first time, China introduced the concept of digital labels, which refer to the display of food labeling information through QR codes or other similar methods. Certain labeling items, e.g., food manufacturers’ names and addresses, may be omitted from the physical label if such information is provided in the digital label. You may refer to our recent CRM – China Continues to Revise the Food Labeling Standard[9], for more details concerning digital labels. 

Layered minimum font size requirement

When prescribing the font size requirement for labeled characters, unlike the current GB 7718, which sets the minimum height at 1.8 mm if the largest surface area (X) of the package is more than 35 cm2, the draft proposal adopts a layered system from 1.8 mm (60 cm2 ≤X<150 cm2), 2 mm (150 cm2 ≤X<400 cm2) to 2.5 mm (X≥ 400 cm2). Meanwhile, the minimum font size for the declaration of net weight remains the same in the proposal. 

Declaration of food additives, compound ingredients, and food culture 

Several changes are proposed focusing on the declaration of food additives in the ingredient list, such as an option to group all food additives in the declaration, using the INS number to represent a food additive when there is insufficient labeling space, etc. Labeling examples are provided in Annex B.

Another significant change to the ingredient declaration is concerning how compound food ingredients shall be declared. Specifically, the draft clarifies that there is no need to declare the original ingredients of compound ingredients within compound ingredients. It also prohibits the situation of breaking down compound food ingredients and directly declaring their original ingredients in the ingredient list. At the current stage, per NHC’s Q&A document of GB 7718-2011[10], in case some of the original ingredients of the compound ingredients are the same as other ingredients in the food, it is permissible to directly declare each original ingredient of the compound ingredients in the ingredient list, and the sequence of each ingredient should be decided by the total amount of each ingredient in the finished product. 

Also provided are requirements for declaring food culture on food labels. For example, the specific name of strains should be indicated for strains added directly during the production process and have not undergone inactivation or removal processes. On the other hand, strains that have undergone inactivation or removal through processes such as filtration are exempted from mandatory declaration. It is worth noting that, for strains that serve a fermentation function in food, general class names (i.e., “fermentation strains” or “microbial fermentation agents”) may be used per the method outlined in Table A.4. 

GB 7718 serves as the regulatory framework for labeling prepackaged foods in the Chinese market. It is important for industry to have a comprehensive understanding of the significant provisions outlined in the new draft, as these can have a substantial impact on the labeling of your food products. Staying informed and ensuring compliance with the updated standard is crucial for navigating the evolving landscape of food labeling in China. Notably, it appears that no grace period is offered by NHC under the draft, and thus, industry may consider suggesting China provides a grace period to phase out existing food labels, given the significant changes. 


The above provides a brief overview of some changes in the new draft food labeling standard of China. Should you have any questions or would like to file comments concerning this standard, please do not hesitate to contact David Ettinger (, Jenny Li (, Yin Dai (, or your existing contact at Keller and Heckman LLP. 



[3] “COO,” under the current GB 7718, refers to the location where the final selling unit comes into shape. See NHC’s Q&A document of GB 7718-2011, available at: 

[4] The draft outlines specific requirements for general claims by introducing Appendix E, outlining a wide range of assertions, e.g., conditional claims (e.g., “natural,” “pure”), comparative claims, etc. 

[5] The draft refers to GB 28050 and GB 13432 for making such claims.

[6] In China, only health foods (i.e., foods that are claimed to have certain specific health functions) are allowed to carry health function claims, subject to different regulatory requirements (e.g., preapproval from the authority is required) compared with conventional foods.

[7] In the absence of specific official permission, food production enterprises are prohibited from autonomously claiming. In other words, unless explicitly permitted for specified ingredients, claims based on the health effects of food ingredients cannot be made. See Explanatory Notes on the draft GB 7718, available at: 

[8] China reviews and approves substances traditionally considered as both food and Chinese medicine. For instance, in November 2023, China updated the Catalogue of Substances Traditionally Considered as Both Food and Chinese Medicine by adding nine new substances, e.g., Panax quinquefolium L., available at: