Speaking about China’s draft food law reform, which is taking shape after a period of consultation this year, Tom Farmer of Natural Wellbeing told FoodNavigator-Asia that he understands the need for greater safety in a market like China’s, but still the country’s regulatory system is going too far by requiring the testing of ingredients that have already been acknowledged for years as being safe.
Great deal of money and time
“Our hope is that they will take a realistic look at food supplements and understand that there are huge deficiencies in China’s use of vitamins and minerals,” Farmer said.
“To make the population more healthy, they need to dumb down a wee bit their restrictions and requirement to provide a dossier for approval. At the moment, supplements are seen as pharmaceuticals, and that’s fine if you make paracetamol, where there is only one ingredient.
“But when you are producing a multivitamin with 20 actives in it, testing that might require an awful lot of money and time, and it may still not be possible. So sometimes you just can’t get a product in.”
After countless scandals involving all segments of China’s food industry, regulators just want to be assured that a product is safe, Farmer said, so the rules are strict to prevent unsafe products from entering the country.
“But we are hoping that the new rules will be more open-minded about how they will test a product to decide if it is safe. At the moment, you have to provide a dossier. [The authorities] don’t care if you make vitamin C, which has been around for donkey’s years—we all know it’s safe and everyone should be taking it—but they still want a massive dossier with stability studies and all sorts, which just costs too much.”
A manufacturer and brand owner of food supplements including Biocare, Patrick Holford and Food Plus, Natural Wellbeing is looking for partners in Asian countries, including China, to distribute its products while also finding brands to take its products for their own private labels.
Look to the EU’s strengths
Farmer urged Chinese authorities to recognise the European regulatory framework when approving new products rather than reinventing the wheel. They should also call on doctors to help regulate the safety of imports.
“There is a huge range of products that fit into the nutraceutical category, and as a company we are far happier when we are challenged to prove our claims by the gatekeepers, who are largely doctors.
“These guys are properly trained and often go to top universities around the world, so they are not going to be sold on any mumbo jumbo. A nutraceutical’s claims have to be science based.
“We like these people, and we want to be asked these kinds of questions because the formulations we put together are science backed and we produce all the scientific supporting material.”
However, Farmer concedes that there is much more to the Chinese system than approvals, and consumer confidence is a big consideration.
“Chinese consumers can be cynical about how a product has reached the shelves; they think that maybe someone knows the right person to get it there in some kind of underhand way. That whole thing doesn’t happen in the UK, where everything has to be squeaky clean,” he said.
And more than anything, Farmer believes, is why Chinese authorities should consider trusting Europe’s framework more as a means to awarding approvals.