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Overseas Food Standards information

~regarding the standards relating to meat substitutes,
Nutrition facts and Best before/Used by date labeling~

This article is a sequel to our June 2020 article, "Updates on International measures regarding Food Labeling regulations during the COVID-19 Pandemic". We would like to take this opportunity to share information about the changes taking place in Japan this year, based on our experiences. This year in Japan, there are...

  • Nutrition facts labeling has become mandatory and can be found on many foods.
  • Many stores such as convenience stores have universally begun charging for plastic bags to aim to protect the environment.
  • More labels of "best-before-date" have been indicated on foods in order to reduce food waste.
  • In response to the fact that new types of foods such as meat substitutes products have increased, consideration of standardization for Japan Agricultural Standards (JAS) for soy-based meat has started.

The Covid-19 situation proportionally continue to increase in some countries and decrease in others depending on the local governmental measures and the consciousness of people. Results are, however, quite similar as the international economy balance was affected. This global long challenge is not different in Japan, however everyone is putting in efforts on a daily basis to support the country. As the end of 2020 is approaching, we start to wonder about the next steps and measures intended on a regulatory basis for the food industry and its safety for the consumer.

New food technologies and legislation for them

On the other hand, and while international food trade operations are stagnating, scientists continue developing new foods substitutes such as cell-cultured meat in addition to plant based meat and food with such technology will be served on plates. FDA is in close touch with the Food business operators interested in this technology to guarantee the safety and traceability of those products and therefore protect the consumers.
FDA and USDA-FSIS have been open to public opinion to ask for better understanding the basis and insights of such revolutionary technology and are working on preparing for the products to be launched using such technology. And as agreed in 2019, they will be establishing a regulatory framework particularly for foods derived from animal cultured cells to protect the consumer from any misleading labeling and ensure its safety.

Alternatives to animal derived products are not limited to lab grown meat but also to plant-based analogues. In fact, these products have got a lot of attention in the market lately.

We would like to recall from our previous article, based on the final publication last December in the Federal register by the FDA, the soy leghemoglobin became permitted for use in ground beef analogue products such as plant-based burgers provided that it does not exceed 0.8% by weight of the uncooked plant-based alternative to beef. Such decision came after concluding its safety as listing of Color Additives Exempt From Certification.
The good news is that following the increase of plant-based meat substitutes products globally such as soy-based meat, the JAS standardization process in Japan has been considered, in order to promote the understanding for meat substitutes and enhance the competitiveness of Japanese products.

Plant-based products popularity is not limited to meat, plant-based milks are also attracting more consumers, particularly oat milk starting to compete with soy milk on shelves. However, arguments continue whether or not it is legit to use the word ‘milk’ for plant-based milk alternatives as it does not comply with the FDA’s definition for milk, highlighting the ‘lactating’ process: Milk means the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows… (CFR21. §131.110 (a))

Regarding new Nutrition facts labeling

The FDA has also raised an innovative informative campaign in the last several months to raise awareness regarding the amendments to the nutrition facts regulations. This movement will be encouraging consumers to get the habit of reading the nutrition facts section and consider what is best for their diet. Those amendments majorly concern 4 items:

  • The serving size: now larger, in bold and some of them have been updated.
  • Calories: now larger, in bold
  • The daily values (%DV): updated, including the footnote at the bottom of the label to better explain %DV and the low and high concept to the consumer.
  • Nutrients:
    • Removed: Calories from fat, Vitamins A and C (still subject to voluntary labeling)
    • Added: Added sugars, Vitamin D and Potassium
    • Remaining without changes: Calcium and iron

Despite the changes and updates in the labeling regulations of some countries including Japan, USA and others, they are considered minor compared to the usual speed of updates in absence of global crisis like Covid-19. We expect numerous novel foods to raise in the meantime as innovation and modernized foods are starting to penetrate our markets.

Regarding Best Before/ Expiration Date

In this article we also would like to stop by the ‘expiration date’ concept, although the purpose of such information on the label in common : preserving the health and safety of the consumer, however the ‘nomination’ for such information on the label is varying from a country to another. For example, in Japan, there are called BBD ‘Best Before Date’ and ‘Expiration date’ these formats are "yyyy.mm.dd". However, in the US, there are numerous expressions that can be used such as : "use before," "sell by," "expires on, "which caused some uncertainty from the consumer in regards to the meaning of this information. For this reason, the FDA has started encouraging the food industries efforts to standardize the use of the term "Best if Used By" since few years ago.

At the end, we can see that governments and organizations are globally prioritizing food safety for consumer and constantly putting up efforts to update the food labeling regulations at the most transparent way. Thank you for reading our article and we will keep sharing with you the regulatory highlights related to food products.

Reference:
Foods Made with Cultured Animal Cells
Progress of the Procedures for Establishment of JAS
CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21
What’s New with the Nutrition Facts Label
Confused by Date Labels on Packaged Foods?

November 2020