The most common reasons for the complaints were the illegal addition of food ingredients, counterfeit food and unauthorised or expired use of trademarks.
A random review of 10 health food complaints found that nine of the 10 were related to falsely advertising the product as a ‘health food’ when it was not.
In China, health foods are defined as food with specified health benefits and must be approved and registered by the authority before marketed in the country.
According to David Ettinger, a partner at Keller and Heckman LLP’s Shanghai office, health foods and supplements containing medical ingredients represented a high number of these disputes.
“Many cases were related to ingredients, such as an extract used in black tea, that is listed in China’s Pharmacopoeia and not approved for use in food,” he told NutraIngredients-Asia
Of the 10 randomly selected cases, 70% settled for refund of the purchased value.
Ettinger noted that many plaintiffs in these cases are often referred to as ‘professional consumers’. This is a term used to identify an individual or group of individuals who knowingly purchase products that may be non-compliant and then bring a claim to the local authority to seek compensation, often 10 times the purchase price, under China’s Food Safety Law.
Consumers and manufacturers
Domestic and foreign food manufacturers should ensure their products comply with the food regulations in China, to avoid potential disputes.
This includes any emphasis on functional ingredients and health benefits, which must be approved by the authorities.
Apart from the product itself, Ettinger added, “companies need to pay attention to the claims and descriptions in their advertisements, not only in traditional media but also in new forms of advertising, for example, the use of key opinion leaders, to ensure they speak about the product and its functions in a manner that is consistent with applicable laws and regulations.”
The Chinese government has published all approved health foods on an online database, which consumers can type the product name, manufacturer etc. to confirm the status of the product.
The Court was established to handle internet-related cases including online shopping disputes, contracts, and copyrights which is not limited to just food and health food products. There are currently three Internet Courts in Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou.