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Changing food markets and the moves in labeling regulations

In the past few years, the processed food market has been growing rapidly on an international scale which implied a constant control on the labeling regulations in order to quickly adapt to the market changes and the emerging new food products. As in Japan, the regulations of food labeling have been amended reflecting these changes in the recent years, I would also like to focus on the current situations in revisions of regulations in the world this time.

A range of drafts and amendments came into the light from definitions to basic requirements and most importantly regarding the mandatory label content like nutrition panel, the ingredient lists and allergens declaration.

In this article, we would like to share with you the latest notifications by comparing them in the table of food labeling regulations between few countries in Europe, USA and South East Asia especially to which Japanese corporations show interests.
A very remarkable detail regarding the insight of the amendments is the prioritization of some elements more than others depending on the society, health trends and consumers’ interests.
(The numbers such as (1), (2) …between the sentences correspond to the ones at the last page with the related links.)

1. Regarding Nutrition Panel

Between the following fiscal years 2018 to 2020, USA appeared the first to update its nutrition panel requirements covering technical, qualitative and quantitative items (Font size, serving size, daily values, nutrients and declared amounts, footnote), the European commission on the other hand had received a self-regulatory proposal from the alcohol beverages manufacturers consenting their intentions to include the ingredients and nutrition information panel on and/or off label using QR/bar codes or smart technologies (1)(2), however, they may limit the nutrition declaration to the energy value only.

Long before then, on April 2015, Japan has enforced the mandatory nutrition labeling for all processed foods and has accorded a 5 years transition period to manufacturers to adjust their labels to the new regulations. Soon on March 2020 will end.

Let’s have a look at the details of the USA case.

USA

Nutrition panel (3)
1. Notice:
March 27,2016
State: Transition under conditions
Changes:

Citation: Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label (the USDA website) (3)

There has been a major awareness regarding added sugar labeling, starting from USA which amended it to the nutrition panel as "add sugar" including free sugars (free mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices under certain conditions. The declaration of Added Sugars applies also on Honey, Maple Syrup, and Certain Cranberry Products.

Reference:The declaration of Added Sugars applies also on Honey, Maple Syrup, and Certain Cranberry Products (3)(19)

On the other hand, "Sugar" is not a mandatory labeling item in Japan, it is a voluntary labeling item in the Food labeling Standard unless the product has a related claim. In fact, there a regulation regarding the "no added sugar" claim.

Moreover, we hear that lots of countries are starting to adopt the sugar tax strategy on sugary drinks in order to back off sugar consumption and help preventing obesity and diabetes. As a result, companies are rushing to modify their own formulas and reduce the amount of added sugar. This way the consumer won’t be discouraged by the price and keep consuming the same products but with less added sugar content. (4)

Regarding a series of amendments of the nutrition panel, the governmental regulatory parties in the USA are taking in consideration many parameters while fixing the transition period such as the company size and its annual production, the fact that the product is already in the markets or the product composition itself.

2. Regarding food additives

Regarding additives, which is a constant changing domain as new additives are emerging from laboratories on daily basis and other ones are being restricted for use due to the discovery of their health-damaging risks through time and consumption. For this reason, we hear immediate amendments all over the food regulations systems in the world.

As for Japan, a review meeting on amendments to the labeling system for additives has been held (as of 2019 November), As a result, discussions are still ongoing regarding "Additive-free" and "not-using〇〇" labeling whether it should be restricted from labeling since it could mislead consumers. (5)

In addition, the provisions on highlighting (〇〇 use, 〇〇 non-use, etc.) are not only "food labeling standards", but also "Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations", and it is a mechanism that bears the responsibility of verifying the contents of the labeling by the business operator.(6)

Look at some warning notices for some label examples for additives to be indicated as shown below.

Indonesia

1. Notice: 21 September 2018
State: Transition Mar-May 2021 (30 months from the notification)
Changes: (7)(8)

-Information regarding natural sweeteners (food additive) or artificial sweeteners and warning in presence of polyol, aspartame, colorants (article 24)
Malaysia

1. Notice: 2017
State: enforced (15 April 2018)
Changes: (9)
1. On the label of food containing Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG): "NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PREGNANT AND LACTING MOTHER"

2. On the label of food containing other than infant formula, follow up formula and formulated milk powder for children containing vitamin K: "CONTAINS VITAMIN K, PERSONS TAKING WARFARIN SHALL SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE BEFORE CONSUMING THIS PRODUCT"

3. Claims and warning statements

As to claims, we would like to organize it respectively per country in the following table:

EU

4.Notice: May 2018
State: Transition until January 1, 2021
Changes:

The term "organic" and all its derivatives or diminutives such as "bio" and "eco" may be used only to label products that comply with EU organic production rules and if at least 95% of the ingredients of agricultural origin is organic. For products containing less than 95% organic ingredients, the term "organic" may be used only to indicate individual organic ingredients in the list of ingredients. (10)
Indonesia

1. Notice: 21 September 2018
State: Transition Mar-May 2021 (30 months from the notification)
Changes:(11)
Labels may include information indicating the non-existence of Food additives (Article 24)
a. no artificial sweeteners;
b. no preservatives;
c. no artificial colours;
d. no antioxidants; and/or

e. no flavour enhancer.

"GENETICALLY ENGINEERED PRODUCT"
"IRRADIATED"

 "CONTAINS PIG"

Thailand

1. Notice: March 19, 2019
State: Draft MOPH Notification
Changes: (12)
The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) is proposing to repeal the notifications "Displaying of the Term 'Premium' on Food Labels" and "Displaying of the Term 'Premium' on Food labels of Pasteurized Cows’ Milk and Pasteurized Full Fat Cows' Milk. "

Singapore

1. Notice: 30 Aug 2019
State: Enforced on 1 September 2019
Changes: (13)
For products sold as lactose free or low lactose, they must include the words "lactose free" or "low lactose", or words of similar import;

Claims stating, suggesting or implying that the infant formula or any ingredient contained in it may have health effects or fortified or a great source of an element or stating energy or carbohydrates or comparing it to breast milk ("contains vitamin D" or "enriched with iron" or "modernized") etc. is prohibited

4. Allergen labeling

A very important item in the mandatory labeling information, the allergens declaration. In fact, the allergens list is still not unified, it is variable from a country to another depending on the local reported allergy cases. In addition, it takes a considerable amount of time to be updated. Moreover, the major allergens and its products are the same for all the countries and which are: Cereals /Milk (including lactose) /eggs /Fish /crustaceans /molluscs /peanuts /soybeans /tree nuts /sulfites. But the difference is whether they are generalized like "Cereals containing gluten" (wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt or their hybridized strains and their products) in Singapore or detailed like "wheat, buckwheat" in Japan.

Basically, the allergen labeling method is based on "contains ..." or "may contain...".

Amongst the latest notice of the Indonesian government, the allergens declaration should be done through one of the following statements:
a. "Produced using equipment that also processes ..." followed by the name of the allergen;
b. "May contain ..." followed by the name of the allergen; or
c. "Can contain …" followed by the name of the allergen.

In Japan, "Almond" was added to the recommended items in September 2019, for a total of 28 items. In addition, "walnuts" will be amended to the mandatory items within 2-3 years. (14)

5. Others

We would like next to mention that Europe has issued a notice on May 2018 regarding the country of origin labeling of the ingredient which is now on transition period till April 2020 and it is mandatory also for honey, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fishery and aquaculture products, beef, pork, sheep, goat meat and poultry. (15)(16) Note that it has already been amended in the Japanese regulations and will be enforced by March 31st, 2022.

Consumers are mostly confusing "COOL" of the product when it is "Made in…" with the "COOL" of the ingredient itself like "Lamb (Brazil)". So, I think that it is a good method to protect the consumers’ interests and avoid deceiving them.

Also, regarding GMO products or made from GMO ingredients, most of the regulatory systems are slowly adapting the mandatory labeling of such information like Vietnam which enforced it on February 2nd, 2018 for products containing at least one GMO ingredient larger than 5% (with a few exemption cases). (17)

To finish with, food regulations and labeling specifications are also being updated depending on new food trends in the market like "plant meats" that emerged recently in order to protect the safety and health of the consumer and avoid any misleading; such as the FDA s notice which has been enforced on September 4th 2019 regarding the use of soy leghemoglobin as a color additive in ground beef analog products, to not exceed 0.8 percent by weight of the uncooked product (18). We believe that all the parties and organizations responsible to food labeling regulations should be racing with time and this rapid innovation as well as keeping the transparency and reliability of the information displayed on the food labels.

References:
  1. Alcohol labelling
  2. Self-regulatory proposal from the european alcoholic beverages sectors on the provision of nutrition information and ingredients listing
  3. Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label
  4. Taxes on sugary drinks: Why do it?
  5. The Material by the Consumer Affairs Agency: Point of debate 3; How "〇〇 not added" and "not-using" should be labeled (Japanese)
  6. Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations (Japanese)
  7. PERATURAN BADAN PENGAWAS OBAT DAN MAKANAN (NOMOR 31 TAHUN 2018 TENTANG LABEL PANGAN OLAHAN) (Indonesian)
  8. Indonesia: Food and Agricultural Import Regulations and Standards Report (FAIRS Annual Country Report) (summary in English by USDA)
  9. PEWARTAAN PINDAAN PERATURAN (Malaysian)
  10. REGULATION (EU) 2018/848 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 30 May 2018
  11. PERATURAN BADAN PENGAWAS OBAT DAN MAKANAN (NOMOR 31 TAHUN 2018 TENTANG LABEL PANGAN OLAHAN) (Indonesian)
  12. ประกาศกระทรวงสาธารณสุข (ฉบับที่ ... ) พ.ศ. ... เรื่อง การแสดงข้อความ พรีเมียม" บนฉลากอาหาร (Thai)
  13. SALE OF FOOD ACT (CHAPTER 283) FOOD (AMENDMENT NO. 2) REGULATIONS 2019
  14. Appendix Labeling of foods containing allergens (Japanese)
  15. COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) 2018/775 of 28 May 2018
  16. Mandatory origin-labelling schemes in Member States
  17. DECREE: DETAILED PROVISIONS FOR EXECUTION OF A NUMBER OF ARTICLES OF THE FOOD SAFETY LAW
  18. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES (Food and Drug dministration 21 CFR Part 73)
  19. Guidance for Industry: Declaration of Added Sugars on Honey, Maple Syrup, Other Single-Ingredient Sugars and Syrups, and Certain Cranberry Products

December 2019