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Fair Competition Code related to labeling Foods for Specified Health Uses

"Fair Competition Code and Enforcement Regulations on Labeling of Foods for Specified Health Uses" announced by the Consumer Affairs Agency and the Fair Trade Commission on June 24, 2020, took effect on August 21st. Since Fair Competition Code has been required for Foods for Specified Health Uses, which are subjected to inspection by the Japanese government in terms of labelling, and a long time has passed since the system of Foods for Specified Health Uses was introduced in 1991, I would like to summarize the background to the enforcement of the Code as well as their main contents of the Code.

Background

At the review of the Foods with Function Claims in December 2014, in “the report on Regarding Food Labeling Standards for Foods with Function Claims”, it is reported that the issues on what the rules should be will continue to be further discussed at the Consumer Commission not only about labeling issues but also about fundamental issues such as the relationship/order with the system of Foods for Specified Health Uses and advertisements of such foods and so-called health foods as well. After that, in June 2015, the Consumer Commission organized the following issues.

While Foods for Specified Health Uses has become widely available to the public as "useful for health,"
  1. Whether consumers are using the product with a correct understanding of the system which is aimed at maintaining and promoting their health and improving their diets (do they have excessive expectations for the effects?)
  2. There have been suspicions that unsuitable adverting/marketing for the effect of the product is being taken place. In addition, members of the Consumer Commission, who deliberate on permission to display Foods for Specified Health Uses, have raise issues regarding not only their labeling and advertising, but also their systems and operations.

In April 2015, the system for Foods with Function Claims started, and the system has made it possible to carry out health labeling claims based on self-certification of each company. Products in the category as well as Foods for Specified Health Uses are expected to contribute to weed out products in the group of “so called Health Foods”, of which health effects and safety are not clear. However, in order to provide the effects of the system fully, it is necessary to create an environment urgently where the people can correctly understand each system and make appropriate product selections.

This issue was discussed at the "the expert examination committee on what the Foods for Specified Health should be (Cabinet Office Consumer Commission)" from August 2015, and the following reports were made. They are the background of establishment of the Fair Competition Code this time.

On the other hand, among the current advertisements, there are also advertisements of products implying some health problem can be solved just by consuming Foods for Specified Health Uses such that "consumption of Foods for Specified Health Uses can offset irregular diets". This situation may be caused by the fact that people involved in product advertisement production and people involved in product distribution and sales do not fully understand the original purpose of the system. It is necessary to reconfirm the purpose of Foods for Specified Health Uses, which is to promote health and improve diet.

As a voluntary standard for Foods for Specified Health Uses, there is the "Voluntary Standard for Appropriate Advertising of" Foods for Specified Health " “ by Public Interest Incorporated Foundation the Japan Health and Nutrition Food Association, and efforts are being made to optimize advertising for Foods for Specified Health Uses. (snip) At present, all member companies have not yet complied with the voluntary standards. In order to improve the situation, it is expected that the companies that manufacture Foods for Specified Health Uses should take measures such as
-implementing follow-ups of the remedial status for business operators of which labelling have been pointed out at the ex-post checking
-establishing their “Fair Competition Code”

Main rules

The Fair Competition Code for labeling Foods for Specified Health Uses has the characteristic of being involved in various food categories such as confectionery and beverages in a cross-sectional way. As such a rule, there has been a "Fair Competition Code regarding the labeling of souvenirs", which excludes foods subjected to other rules. However, there is no such exclusion rules for Foods for Specified Health Uses.

In addition, regarding the labeling of containers and packaging, the rules have been reorganized in accordance with Food Labeling Standards, so it seems that "labeling other than containers and packaging" (labeling of advertisements, etc.) needs to be paid attention to in practice.

Indications other than containers and packaging

Partial excerpts from Articles 9-11 of the Fair Competition Code and Articles 20-25 of the Enforcement Regulations of this Code.

Mandatory labeling items
  1. Indication that it is Foods for Specified Health Uses
  2. Contents of labeling for which permission has been obtained
  3. Wording to promote and enlighten a balanced diet
Recommended labelling items
  1. Indication about the recommended daily intake amount
  2. Indication about how to intake
Voluntary labelling items
  • When displaying voluntary labelling items related to labeling of Foods for Specified Health Uses other than containers and packaging, display them within the scope of the content for which permission has been granted.
  • In addition to the provisions of the preceding paragraph, when displaying the items listed in the following items, each item shall be displayed in accordance with the standards specified in the relevant item.
  1. Labeling regarding display of permission and others
  2. Indication that it is Foods for Specified Health Uses
  3. Indication of safety
  4. Indication regarding in human tests
  5. Display of data (graphs, etc.) in human tests
  6. Indication about the mechanism of action of the components involved
  7. Labeling of product features and ingredients
  8. Labeling of statistical data, etc.
  9. Labeling of questionnaire / monitor results
  10. Labeling of personal impressions, etc.
  11. Indication featuring doctors, specialists, etc.
  12. Labeling featuring children

The above is an excerpt, so please refer to the enforcement regulations for details. For example, in the voluntary labelling item "1. Labeling regarding display of permission and others" it stipulates that rephrasing to catchphrases, simplification, partially omitted display, or additional explanation are allowed to be indicated. However, when displaying it, the indication which mislead people into believing that the product is approved by the government shall not be displayed.

Upcoming schedules

The Fair Competition Code and Enforcement Regulations regarding the labeling of Foods for Specified Health Uses came into effect on August 21, 2020, but "labeling other than containers and packaging" (Articles 9 to 14 of the Fair Competition Code and Enforcement Regulations Article 20-26) will be enforced on the day when 6 months have passed from the public notice date on June 24, 2020.

Since the rules regarding advertising labeling such as those other than containers and packaging are stipulated in detail, it is recommended that those who handle general health foods as well as Foods for Specified Health Uses check the details of these rules.

Reference:
The expert examination committee to discuss what Foods for Specified Health Uses should be
Report by the expert examination committee on what Foods for Specified Health Uses should be

October 2020