Legislation & Policy

Translation: SPC – Trials Concerning Civil Disputes Regarding Food Safety Explanation of Several Issues of Applicable Law

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Law Interpretation (2020) No. 14

Supreme People’s Court Regarding Trials Concerning Civil Disputes Regarding Food Safety Explanation of Several Issues of Applicable Law (1)

(October 19, 2020, the Judicial Committee of the Supreme People’s Court)

(Adopted at the 1813th meeting, effective from January 1, 2021)

In order to correctly hear cases of civil disputes on food safety and protect the health and safety of the public, this Interpretation is formulated in accordance with the Civil Code of the People’s Republic of China, the Food Safety Law of the People’s Republic of China, the Consumer Rights Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China, and the Civil Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China and other laws, in combination with the trial practice of civil cases.

Article 1 – Where a consumer is injured due to food that does not meet the food safety standards, and claims damages from the food producer or operator to compensate for the loss in accordance with the Article 148, paragraph 1 of the Food Safety Law, if the defendant-producer argues that the liability for compensation should be borne by the operator or if the defendant-operator argues that the liability for compensation should be borne by the producer, the People’s Court shall not support the argument. If it is the producer’s liability, after compensation the operator shall have the right to recover from the producer; if it is the operator’s liability, after compensation the producer shall have the right to recover from the operator.

Article 2 – Where the food that does not meet the food safety standards is sold by an e-commerce platform marked as self-operated, or where the e-commerce platform is not marked as self-operated but actually carries out self-operated business, if the consumer claims that the e-commerce platform shall bear the compensation liability as the food operator in accordance with Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, the People’s Court shall support it.

Where an e-commerce platform does not actually carry out self-operated business, but its  mark is sufficiently misleading, making consumers believe that it is self-operated, if the consumer claims that the e-commerce platform shall bear the compensation liability as the food operator in accordance with Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, the People’s Court shall support it.

Article 3 – Where an e-commerce platform violates Article 62 and Article 131 of the Food Safety Law by failing to conduct real-name registration and review licenses of food operators on the platform, or by failing to perform the duty to report and the duty to stop providing online trading platform services, which harms the legitimate rights and interests of the consumer, if the consumer claims that e-commerce platforms and food operators on the platform shall bear joint liability, the People’s Court should support it.

Article 4 – If the food provided by the carrier of public transportation to passengers does not meet food safety standards, and the passenger claims that the carrier shall bear the liability for compensation as a food producer or operator in accordance with Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, the People Court shall support it; if the carrier argues on the grounds that the carrier is not a food producer or the food is provided for free, the People’s Court shall not support such defence.

Article 5 – Where a relevant entity or individual knows that the food producer/operator is engaged in illegal activities as prescribed in Article 123, paragraph 1 of the Food Safety Law, but still provides the food producer/operator with equipment, technology, raw materials, sales channels, transportation, storage or other assistance, if the consumer claims that the entity or individual and the food producer/operator should bear joint liability in accordance with Article 123, paragraph 2 of the Food Safety Law, the People’s Court shall support it.

Article 6 – Where the food operator fits into one of the following circumstances, if the consumer claims that it constitutes “knowingly” as stipulated in Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, the People’s Court shall support it:

  • The food is sold after the expiration date indicated on the food;
  • failure to provide the legal source of the food;
  • the food is purchased at an obviously unreasonable low price without reasonable reason;
  • failure to fulfil the duty of inspection in accordance with the law when purchasing the food;
  • false labelling, or alteration of the food production date and batch number;
  • transferring, concealing, or illegally destroying food purchase and sales records or deliberately providing false information;
  • other circumstances that can be recognized as “knowingly”.

Article 7 – Where the consumer believes that the producer/operator produces or operates food that does not meet food safety standards and in the meantime constitutes fraud, the consumer has the right to choose between Article 148, paragraph 2 of the Food Safety Law and Article 55, paragraph 1 of the Consumer Rights Protection Law to claim punitive damages from the food producer/operator.

Article 8 – Where an operator knows that the food does not meet the food safety standards, but promises to the consumer a compensation standard that is higher than the compensation standard stipulated in Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, if the consumer claims damages based on the promised compensation standard, the People’s Court shall support it in accordance with the law.

Article 9 – Where the food meets food safety standards but does not meet the quality standards promised by producer/operator, and the consumer claims that producers and operators should bear liability in accordance with the Civil Code, the Consumer Rights Protection Law and other legal provisions, the People’s Court shall support it. But if the consumer claims that the producer/operator should bear liability based on Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, the People’s Court shall not support it.

Article 10 – Where the food does not meet food safety standards and the consumer claims that the producer/operator should bear punitive compensation liability in accordance with Article 148, paragraph 2 of the Food Safety Law, if the producer/operator defends itself on the ground that the food does not cause physical injury to the consumer, the People’s Court shall not support the defence.

Article 11 – Where [the producer/operator] produces or operates pre-packaged food that does not indicate the name and address of the producer, ingredients or an ingredient list, or does not clearly indicate the date of production and expiration life, if the consumer claims that the producer/operator should bear punitive damages in accordance with Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, the People’s Court shall support it, unless laws, administrative regulations, and national food safety standards provide otherwise for the labelling matters.

Article 12 – Where the imported food does not meet the national food safety standards or standards that the health administrative department of the State Council has decided to temporarily apply, and the consumer claims that seller, importer and other operators shall bear the compensation liability in accordance with Article 148 of the Food Safety Law, if the seller, importer and other operators defend themselves only on the ground that the imported food meets the food safety standards of the place of exportation, or that the imported food has passed the inspection and quarantine of China’s customs inspection and quarantine agency, the People’s Court shall not support the defence.

Article 13 – Where the production and operation of food that does not meet food safety standards infringes on the lawful rights and interests of many consumers and harms the public interest of the society, if an agency or a related organization stipulated by the Civil Procedure Law, the Consumer Rights Protection law and other laws files a public interest litigation in accordance with the law, the People’s Court shall accept it.

Article 14 – This Interpretation shall come into force on January 1, 2021.

After the implementation of this Interpretation, the first instance and second instance cases being tried by the People’s Court shall apply this Interpretation.

If a case has been finalized before the implementation of this Interpretation, and a retrial is applied by a party or is initiated through trial supervision procedures, this Interpretation does not apply.

If a judicial interpretation previously issued by the Supreme People’s Court is inconsistent with this Interpretation, this Interpretation shall prevail.

Translation by SIPS.

A PDF of the original Chinese text is available here.