More room for innovation in South Korea through regulatory updates

08 September, 2023

In the drive to support food businesses, both national and international, South Korea has recently amended two streams of legislation, one concerning the pre-market approval for novel foods and the other on the exemption of certain terms from misleading label principles. Both of these changes are critical turning points that will encourage further innovation in South Korea as well as incentivise foreign companies to market their products in Korea.


Novel food technologies

Previously, any raw materials or ingredients obtained from novel technologies were not authorised for use in foods, hindering the development and marketing of such ingredients in South Korea.

In July of this year, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) made significant progress in enabling novel foods to enter the Korean market, through the amendment of the Enforcement Rule of Food Sanitation Act.

This means that ingredients such as lab-grown meat and seafood obtained from cell culture technologies are now in the scope of pre-market authorisation (Temporary Standards and Specifications).

This change has driven cultured meat businesses to enter the novel foods market. For example, South Korean cultivated meat startup Space F presented sausages made from cultured pork at Agri & Food Tech Start-up Rising Expo 2023 held in Seoul in late July. A spokesperson for the company commented that their cultured meat products have not yet been approved by MFDS.

Novel ingredients such as cultured meat could be permitted for general use in foods by the MFDS in the near future, helping further aid development of new products. For this to happen, the specific novel ingredient needs to be compliant with at least one of certain conditions prescribed in the Korean Food Code, for example 3 years have passed since the date of approval of Temporary Standards and Specifications. Adding a novel ingredient to the general ingredients list is at the discretion of the MFDS.

Alternative proteins labelling

Following on the heels of the amended novel food legislation is the introduction of definitions and standards via an Amendment to the Korean Food Code for alternative foods (foods mimicking the sensory properties of counterpart foods by replacing animal-based ingredients with alternative ingredients) such as plant-based ingredients, microorganisms, edible insects, and cell culture.

In parallel to the novel foods amendment, the MFDS issued a Draft Amendment in August 2023 to exempt specific wordings (e.g. meat, milk, egg) for certain alternative foods such as meat alternatives from misleading labelling principles. Comments are being accepted until 24 October 2023. The amendment would legally enable plant-based products to continue to use these terms on the label. For example, textured soy protein, commonly marketed as “bean meat” in Korea, would still be able to use the wording “meat” on the label.

Increased opportunities

These regulatory changes open up increased opportunities for innovative companies seeking to enter the South Korean market.

If you need support in applying for pre-market authorisation for novel food ingredients, and/or compliance checks for alternative food labels in South Korea, Leatherhead’s scientific and regulatory experts can help. Do reach out to us with any questions at [email protected].

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