Importing food from China: risk or opportunity?
When considering the import of food products from China, many will remember the series of food scandals that alarmed the global community between 2008 and 2010. As a result, for some years after importing food products from China was considered a hazardous undertaking. Fast forward to 2021 - is importing food from China an opportunity or a risk?
From food safety scandal to food quality regulations
In response to the food scandals, China rapidly increased efforts to strengthen its legislative structure, research capabilities, and coordination efforts. The government passed the Food Safety Law in 2009 which established the National Food Safety Standards (NFSS) framework. Additionally, China set up three new bodies - the Food Safety Commission of the State Council, the Expert Committee on Food Safety Risk Assessment (now renamed to National Food Quality Supervision and Inspection Center (CFDA)), and the China International Food Safety & Quality (CIFSQ)1.
The need for National Food Safety Standards (NFSS)
Amongst enhancing law enforcement and emphasizing the protection of consumers, the 2009 Food Safety Law also provided guidance on the governance and operations of the National Food Safety Standards (NFSS) framework. The NFSS framework was established based on benchmarks of international best practices and on the guidance of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC). The objective of the NFSS framework is to serve as a robust system for risk analysis in Chinese food production. With China joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO), China’s food safety standards must be based on robust risk assessments as mandated by the WTO Sanity and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement.
From 2013 to 2015, the NFSS was reviewed by 148 experts from CFDA and industry panels. This initiative re-assessed over 5,000 existing food standards across contaminants, functional classes, labelling, hygiene requirements for food production, and operations, food inspection procedures, and methods of analysis relating to food safety. Since then, there has been an ongoing effort to refine the standards and methods of the NFSS as new information and research emerge2.
China’s new food safety governing bodies
In response to the food scandals in 2008, the Food Safety Commission of the State Council was set up in 2010 to directly oversee food safety in China in the central government. It is an ad-hoc coordination body which provides guidance on the improvement of food production and operation quality alongside other government agencies, industry associations and companies.
A second governing body, the CFDA, was established in 2011 to provide professional assistance for the mitigation of food safety risks covering the whole food supply chain, i.e. "from farm to table." The CFDA not only advises the government on risk management issues, but also offers consumers, manufacturers and other relevant stakeholders public awareness and science-based knowledge on food safety issues.
Lastly, to resolve critical issues globally, the CIFSQ was established to bring together global experts for discussions on recent developments in research, smart technology, best management practices, risk-based strategies, efficient communications, and robust legislation which can make a difference in improving food safety.
China’s food export industry today - steadily growing export value
Although today there are still mixed views on the success of China’s latest regulations and standards on food safety, the country’s food export industry has nonetheless seen significant growth in the past decade.
China has become one of the leading exporters of agri-food products, contributing to 4.1% of global agri-food export value. In 2019, the Chinese exported agri-food commodities amounting to 45.13 million tons and US$64.83 billion, a staggering increase of 85% compared to 20053. China’s top export categories are fish & crustaceans (raw & processed), vegetables and fruits, and raw & processed nuts. China's top three top export destinations are the United States, Hong Kong, and Japan.
In addition, it is worth noting that the average growth rates in exports are higher in value than in volume. This could indicate that China is shifting towards exporting more finished food products than raw materials. In the past three years, processed food exports have been growing at a rate three times higher than raw material or semi-finished goods4.
How to find the reputable food suppliers from China?