Food Labelling & Fair Competition


The wide and important field of food safety law has been recently explored, analysed, studied and explained all over the world. As a matter of fact, this particular branch of legislation is one of the few in which doctrine is not divided into distinguished schools of thought.

China vs. USA
In the two biggest Countries; PRC and USA, solutions utilised to regulate food labelling are different. In China, the State is invested in a paternalistic control over citizens while in the USA, the lobbies govern (as with much else) how the food market operates. No matter; the results are identical in the visuals of the labelling, where citizens, in both countries, were (and often, still nowadays, are) not properly informed.

Confucius vs. Lobbyist
In other words, changing the point of view from the political and economic to those of citizens, neither a Chinese consumer nor an American consumer enjoys accurate information regarding their foodstuffs, meaning neither are free to choose their own diet, take risks according to their own feeling, select which product is the most appropriate for the growth of their children, etc. Expanding on the aforementioned principles, the Chinese system deems it appropriate to operate exemplified choices for its citizens, operating from the assumption that knowledge is held by the rulers (in a revised Confucian political philosophy) and not by common people. On the other hand, in the American system, liberal in its declarations but dominated by other kinds of bureaucracies, In particular (not the political, but) the lobbyist types, such choices are made by the ruling economical powers. And while China’s power choices are aimed at protecting the health of citizens, as a parent protects the health of their own children, those of the US are aimed at “protecting an uncovered unfair competition”, as pointed out by consumers’ associations.

A United Humankind
Those two visions, so far from each other in approach, share a common feature; one system protects the health, the other the competition, but neither protect both fundamental aspects.

Another area with common ground, not only between China and the US, but all of human society, is that of the importance of a functional food labelling system, in which public administrations set forth general rules, companies comply, citizens control and tribunals protect.

Food labelling’s peculiarity is the development of a unique issue for two main reasons and legal goals; on the one hand, informing consumers by providing a complete, non-misleading, truthful, etc. labelling system that means ensuring the truthfulness of the quality of the food it represents; on the other hand, ensuring fair competition.

These considerations lead us to the core of the labelling regime; a system of “subsidiary controls”, in which the State issues general rules with the will of protecting the right to healthy and fair competition, the companies act as issuer and the consumers act as controllers, all in full respect of the principle of subsidiarity.

In this way, trusting consumers’ knowledge and opinions, a good labelling system shall mean a good system for the food law itself. Syllogistically, indeed, if it is true that the label shows the content (and this task is given to the legislator and the enactors) and, at the same time, that the label is truthful, then the content is also truthful.

Furthermore, in a proper labelling regime, no company would logically be able to provide false or misleading declaration, as this would mean a (marketing and procedural) failure of the company. In other words, a truthful, complete and non-misleading label shall mean a higher level of respect for human health and fair competition.

This article is intended solely for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice. Although the information in this article was obtained from reliable official sources, no guarantee is made with regard to its accuracy and completeness. For more information please visit or WeChat: dandreapartners.


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Legal columnist Carlo D’Andrea is Chair of the Legal & Competition Working group of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China; Shanghai Chapter, Coordinator of the Nanjing Working Group of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in China and has taught Chinese law (commercial and contractual) at Rome 3 University. 法律作家代开乐担任中国欧盟商会上海分会法律与竞争工作组主席,中国意大利商会劳动集团的协调员与曾经在罗马三大担任企业咨询课程中中国商法、合同法的课程教授。

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