USCHPA meets with China lawmakers to discuss dietary supplement reform

Hailed as a sign of true determination by China to reform and put into practice more streamlined and transparent regulations

The US–China Health Products Association (USCHPA) has met with China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Legislative Department to discuss China’s draft Food Safety Law, which includes regulations that oversee the dietary supplement industry. The three-hour meeting was hosted by a team of nine officials from NPC’s Legislative Department and was led by Director Yuan Jie and Deputy Director Huang Wei.

USCHPA’s executive director Jeff Crowther and executive assistant Carrie Wang attended the meeting, together with embasy officials from America, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan and New Zealand as well as two officials from the EU Delegation in Beijing and a representative from the American Chamber of Commerce.

Although much of the discussion focused on the ongoing issues with infant formula, USCHPA put forward the following points for dietary supplements:

  1. Dietary Supplements should be regulated under food law and on a notification basis not registration as it is currently under. The registration system is not only too costly in both time and fees, but it is also redundant in many cases. For example, if two identical products from two different manufacturers enter the market, they both must submit to registration procedures costing more than US$100,000 each.
  2. China’s law refers to the dietary supplement industry as the health food industry, which is too broad at term. China should seek to replace that terminology with 'dietary supplement', which will bring more clarity to government, industry and consumers.
  3. Health product claims should be replaced with structure function type claims similar to what is found in the US’s Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act 1994. This will assist in eliminating consumer confusion to the actual functions that dietary supplements play in a healthy diet. At this point in time, many Chinese consumers feel dietary supplements are a type of medicine.
  4. China’s Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) is planning to release new regulations this year for dietary supplements that include a notification system. However, this system as it is drafted would allow individual vitamins and some minerals to enter the market only on a notification basis. Although this is a step in the right direction, it will not really help the industry too much as most dietary supplements are made of multiple ingredients, which can include speciality nutrients such as omega-3, CoQ-10, botanicals etc. CFDA’s position on risk assessment would require products with multiple ingredients to go through registration, as they would not be eligible to proceed through the new draft notification system.
  5. Currently regulations are also forcing Chinese ingredient suppliers to rely heavily on export orientated business strategies due to the lack of domestically produced dietary supplements. If the regulations become more open and transparent moving towards 100% notification, there would be many more opportunities for both foreign and domestic ingredient suppliers to sell to Chinese manufacturers of dietary supplements.
  6. Ingredients that are already approved as food by China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC - former Ministry of Health), such as some probiotics, Omega-3s as well as many other botanical and dietary ingredients, are not allowed to be sold as dietary supplements without going through another separate registration process with China’s FDA to be sold as a health product. This is redundant, as NHFPC has already determined that the ingredient is safe for human consumption, NHFPC approved ingredients should be allowed to be sold as dietary supplements without redundant testing from China’s FDA.

USCHPA has expressed its gratitude for the opportunity to share its members' point of view with NPC’s Legislative Office and sees this as a sign of true determination by China to reform and put into practice more streamlined and transparent regulations.

It is expected that China’s State Council will be releasing new regulations for dietary supplements by the end of this year, and USCHPA will be tracking progress and will submit comments when appropriate. The association will also keep its members and the industry in general informed of any regulatory shifts that will affect China’s dietary supplement and nutritional ingredient industry.

'I’ve been living in China for nine years working on business development and regulatory advocacy. This is the first time I’ve witnessed such openness and strong willingness to engage with foreign parties.,' said Crowther. 'It was a wonderful opportunity for those in attendance to share their suggestions and questions directly with China’s lawmakers.'

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