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Discussions about the "overall situation of food labeling" have started

On August 30, 2018, discussions about the "overall situation of food labeling" started at the food labeling committee of the Cabinet Office's Consumer Commission. Therefore, we would like to feature it in this month's entry.
Including the new Country of Origin Labeling system for ingredients, the number of mandatory labeling items has progressively increased, so the methods of labeling are being discussed.
First of all, we would like to explain the background of these discussions.

Background of the discussions

Inspired by the supplementary opinions written in the report on "the discussions about the new Country of Origin Labeling system for ingredients" (August 10, 2017), the content of the discussion was confirmed during the Consumer Commission held on May 31, 2018.

Supplementary opinions written in the report on the "discussions about the new Country of Origin Labeling system for ingredients" (as of August 10, 2017) (except)
1. Following the increase of mandatory labeling items, the number of characters/sentences to be written on a product is quite significant now.
If the number of mandatory labeling items (including the country of origin labeling for ingredients) further increases in the future, the situation may get worse, which could cause consumers to overlook labeling related to safety.
The subject of the current food labeling is mainly about actual products labeling: however methods of labeling and priority ranking among those labeling types should be comprehensively discussed including consideration regarding effective strategies/methods to include mentions on the internet in the system and how to utilize it.

The following items were agreed on during the 275th Consumer Commission (held on May 31, 2018).

  • While summarizing the current situation surrounding food labeling and paying due regard to the consumers needs, the food labeling will be generally discussed.
  • Considering the theme of this study and deliberation, the combination of provision of information on websites and conventional labeling on containers and packages, including prioritizing the labeling items and possibility of labeling utilizing the internet, can be brought up as an example - however the presence of professionals with expert knowledge on food labeling at the food labeling committee is required for further considerations.

Current labeling items and classifications

We shall first review the current situation of mandatory labeling items.
In the Japanese labeling system, items and classifications of labeling are as follows.

Product legal name General legal names.
Items that are not "product name"

Ingredients list

 Allergens

Listing of food ingredients (i.e. all but additives) in descending order of weight

7 mandatory items (allergens) including eggs, milk, wheat, buck wheat, peanuts, shrimp and crab

Additives

 Allergens

Listing of the food additives used or included in the product ingredients

7 mandatory items (allergens) including eggs, milk, wheat, buck wheat, peanuts, shrimp and crab

Net weight Weight (g, kg), volume (ml, l), quantity (number etc.)
Best before date The format should be yyyy.mm.dd
The manufacturer should set the date
Storage method A mention regarding the preservation method (as of when the freshness date was set)
This is not a "Once opened" caution
Seller Name and address of the person responsible for the labeling content
Manufacturer Name and address of the manufacturer
Quantity or (calorie content for the energy value) of nutritional components Calorie and amount of protein, fat, carbohydrate and sodium (which should be converted to salt equivalent) per food unit: should be written in their own established unit

(Reference: "Documentation regarding food labeling" (Consumer Commission Secretariat))

"Major items related to food safety"

  • Allergens
  • Best before date
  • Storage method
  • Mentions stating that the product contains L-phenylalanine compound

"Major items which may influence customers' choices"

  • Ingredients list
  • Area and country of origin
  • Additives
  • Net weight
  • Food-related business operator
  • Nutrition facts
  • GMO information

(Reference: "Documentation regarding food labeling" (Consumer Commission Secretariat))

Major points of contention

What exactly needs to be discussed was summarized in the material presented by the Consumer Commission Secretariat.

Points of contention for the discussion of the food labeling overall situation (draft)

  • Priority among labeling items
  • Labeling made on the internet
  • How to combine the labeling on packages/containers and the information provided on websites
  • Creation of design and layout for the labeling of food packages/containers
    (Characters size, utilization of marks, etc.)
  • Measures concerning labeling in foreign languages

Currently, the main concerns can be listed as follows: "The average packaging size is getting smaller since the trend of having individual meal is increasing", "However the number of mandatory labeling items is increasing" and "Therefore, if this trend continues consumers may overlook the labeling related to food safety".
So it is very likely that the points of contention listed above will be further discussed.

Incoming schedule

The discussion just started on August 30, with a review of the Codex standards and the labeling system in Japan.
The 46th discussion was then held on October 10.
The fact whether "food labeling was easy to understand (or not)" was discussed, and the character sizes, as well as the creation of universal design, will probably be considered in the future, based on various aspects including products in other fields or food productions countries.
In light of the above, we recommend people in charge of food labeling to read through it at least once.

Reference:
The 45th food labeling committee (Consumer Commission)

November 2018