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Label bank

Expansion of labeling requirements for processed foods: Origin of ingredients

Review meeting on "country of origin labeling system for ingredients in processed food products" have been held since January this year. The possible expansion and the feasibility of mandatory origin labeling for processed foods are being discussed, responding to several decisions made particularly in "Basic Plan for Consumers", "Basic Plans for Food, Agriculture and Rural Areas" and "Outline of Comprehensive Policies Related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership".

The current labeling system in terms of the origin of ingredients

Labeling system in different food categories:

Fresh FoodMandatory origin labeling
Processed FoodMandatory origin labeling on certain foods
Mandatory origin labeling on imported foods
Restaurant MenuNot mandatory

The "certain" processed foods refer to 22 categories and 4 types of processed foods. (Please see "Appended table 15 of Food Labeling Standard" for more details.) Since the year 2000, Japan has been discussing the criteria for selection of processed food products that are subject to the labeling requirement (mandatory origin labeling). Here are some excerpts from "Future guidelines for labeling place of origin on processed food products (2003)" below:

1) Processed food products whose difference in the quality is mainly attributable to the difference in the place of origin, 2) of which the agricultural, livestock and marine products as main ingredients constitute 50 % or more of the total weight of the processed product are to be subject to mandatory origin labeling.

Based on such background described above, the current Food Labeling Standard sets out requirements as follows on mandatory origin labeling:
"The main ingredient is a fresh food which has the largest percentage by weight and of which weight is no less than 50 % of total ingredients/additives."

Besides the Food Labeling Standard, requirements for place of origin are governed under different rules including Tokyo Consumer Protection Regulations, which says; "As for prepared frozen foods (some are exempt), in the case where the name of the ingredient is included in the product name (the name of the food), the ingredient that constitutes up to the third largest percentage by weight, and of which weight is no less than 5 % of total ingredients." The Fair Competition Code has similar rules as to place of origin for edible salts, coffee, and honey.

Major challenges and future development

The following items are being reviewed in the review meeting:

  • The current system of place of origin labeling, and the current approach
  • Concrete measures towards expanding labeling requirements for processed foods (place of origin)
  • Others

The feasibility of expansion of mandatory origin labeling is a key issue. Whereas food manufacturers who produce minimally or mildly processed foods are in favor of expanding the scope or mandatory origin labeling, manufacturers who produce products using a wide variety of ingredients have doubts about the feasibility. A hearing has been held at the review meeting to solicit opinions from people involved.

The interim report of the review meetings is scheduled to be issued in autumn this year and the report is going to be available at the following links. Check it out if you are interested.

"Review Meetings on Expanding Labeling Requirements for Processed Foods (origin of ingredients)" (Consumer Affairs Agency)

Food Labeling Standard: appended table 15 (P527) (Japanese only)

Labelling of origin of ingredient System (summary in English: Consumer Affairs Agency)

April 2016