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August 22, 2011

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Confusing labeling sees soup cubes withdrawn

LOCAL supermarkets removed Knorr soup cubes from their shelves over the weekend, following claims they were incorrectly labelled.

Chains, including Wal-Mart, Lianhua and Hualian, withdrew Knorr Nongtangbao instant soup, which is made by food and consumer products giant Unilever.

This came after an industrial and commercial administration bureau in Guiyang City, capital of Guizhou Province, claimed the ingredients labeling on the concentrate breached China's food safety laws and labeling regulations.

Recently introduced packaging for the Knorr Nongtangbao product series claims its beef soup "may also contain wheat, shrimp, soybean, egg and dairy products."

Officials at the Guiyang bureau say consumers are confused by this and it violates food safety laws, which require clear labeling.

Prepackaged food regulations also require that all contents must be listed clearly on the packaging.

Supermarkets in Shanghai withdrew Knorr Nongtangbao products on Saturday, following similar moves in some stores in Beijing.

Unilever said the "may contain" labeling is an allergen labeling standard based on international practices.

"As several products are manufactured on the same line, there is the possibility of the presence of allergy-causing substances because of cross production or through the raw materials," said Zeng Xiwen, vice president of Unilever China.

According to Zeng, the wording is in preparation for China's new general standard for the labeling of prepackaged foods, due to take effect on April 20 next year.

The new rule requires manufacturers to give information on the potential presence of major allergens.

"We do not add those allergy-causing substance to the products but, based on goodwill and international practice, we make the statement to inform consumers about the possible presence of allergens," said Zeng.

But Zeng also admitted that under the current national regulations there are no specific rules on the wording of the "may contain" labeling.

"We are checking with the Ministry of Health to improve the wording," said Zeng.

The Guiyang City authority has issued a notice to local supermarkets to remove Knorr soup products.

The Beijing Industrial and Commercial Bureau said it will take action if consumers' interests are at risk.

This range of Knorr instant soups was launched in 2007.


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