Please enable JavaScript

Language:

Health food labeling and its points to confirm

~Based on Demand for Improvement and Alert against the Labeling on Prevention of Covid-19 (Japan)~

On February 19, 2021, the Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) announced "Demand for improvement regarding labeling of products, etc. that claim a preventive effect against Covid-19, and an alert to general consumers, etc. about such claims" There were many announcements of such alerts but we have not taken up much of these in the news.

However, in consideration of the recent changes such as:

  • the information is of high public interest especially under the current situation
  • the recent review of the business structure has led to the entry into the manufacture and sale imports, etc. of health foods
I would like to take this opportunity to reorganize the points for checking the labeling of health foods.

Summary of Demand for Improvement and Alert

The outline is as follows.

  • As for Covid-19, its properties and characteristics are not fully clear, and it is difficult to carry out tests about it in private facilities. Therefore, virus prevention products claiming to be effective against the coronavirus may lack objectivity and rationality at this stage.
  • It is considered highly likely to violate the provisions of Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations (Misleading representations concerning the quality/standard of a product or service) and the Health Promotion Act (False and exaggerated labeling of food products) as it significantly misleads general consumers in their choice of products.
  • As an urgent measure, the demand was made for improvement for optimizing labeling of health foods, negative ion generators, disinfectant sprays, and other products claiming to have preventive effects against the coronavirus in Internet advertisements and the alert was issued to general consumers, etc. through SNS.

The following is the excerpt from an example of a health foods that had been demanded to improve for optimization of its labeling.

  • The coronavirus develops due to magnesium deficiency, and by taking vitamin D, magnesium, zinc, and selenium at the same time with vitamin C, the immune function against the virus is strengthened.
  • For prevention of the coronavirus, unsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid and oleic acid contained in sesame lipids enhance immunity against it.
  • Manuka honey, which has even stronger bactericidal power than any other honey, its antibacterial properties can help you fight against viruses, not to be defeated by the coronavirus.
  • "Barley β-glucan", which is said to be good for preventing the coronavirus infections. Boost immunity against viruses that threaten the world, and build a body that is not defeated by viruses.

According to the announcement, "risk of lack of objectivity and rationality" is the direct reason for this improvement demand and alert (as an urgent measure). We need to pay an attention that this does not simply mean that "preventive effect against the coronavirus" should not be labeled.

Health food labeling and its points to confirm

For those who are new to handle health foods, knowing that "there is a labeling system" and "their grounds are required" is a basic point when considering labeling of health foods.

  1. Are there any necessary requirements for the labeling?
  2. Are there rational grounds to support the labeling?

There is a correlation between the content of the rational grounds you have and the labeling systems available. There are four major options for labeling systems (excluding cases where the product is sold as a drug) taking a broad view of "health".

  1. Labeling with approvals as Foods for Specified Health Uses, which have been individually reviewed based on the grounds.
  2. Labeling the content (functionality) of which rational grounds as Foods with Function Claims have been notified.
  3. Labeling the nutrient functions with prepared grounds as specified for Foods with Nutrient Function Claims.
  4. Regardless of the above A to C labeling system, not labeling for those can be used only in the case of A to C*

* In addition, Labeling claim (high, included, enhanced, etc.) is possible to make, if there is enough evidence that meets the criteria for nutrient claims.
* If a food product is labeled as having medical efficacy, it may be subject to a crackdown on "non-recognized/non-authorized drugs".

Regarding rational grounds

Rational grounds refer to the concept of "Regulations on Advertising Content That Has Not Been Demonstrated". The following is the CAA's "Key Points of Guidelines for Regulations on Advertising Content That Has Not Been Demonstrated (Criteria for Determining "Reasonable Grounds")",

The following two requirements must be met in order for the submitted materials to be considered as rational grounds to support labeling.

  1. The submitted material must have the contents which have been verified objectively.
  2. There is an appropriate correspondence between labeled efficacy/function, and the verified contents by the submitted materials.

Specific examples of rational grounds required for health food products include human trials using final products, and materials such as research reviews of the ingredients used or the constituents of the ingredients. When making a claim for nutrients an analysis of the nutrients included in the final product (valid until best before date) will be necessary.

While there are also standards for points to keep in mind when labeling advertisements on the Internet, etc. for foods under the labeling system mentioned above (Foods for Specified Health Uses, Foods with Function Claims, Foods with Nutrient Function Claims), it may be hard to understand the criteria for health foods, which do not fall within the scope of any of such labeling system about what to label and how to label it. In such a case, the idea of "Key points of Guidelines for Regulations on Advertising Content That Has Not Been Demonstrated" will be an easy-to-understand criterion.

The basis of labeling of health foods is to know that "there is a labeling system" and "their grounds are required". And among the two requirements of rational grounds, the essentially important one is "2. There is an appropriate correspondence between labeled efficacy/function, and the verified contents by the submitted materials". It's important for those who are considering newly handling health foods to understand these systems and regulations.

References:
Demand for improvement regarding labeling of products, etc. that claim a preventive effect against Covid-19, and an alert to general consumers, etc. about such claims (CAA)
Regulations on Advertising Content That Has Not Been Demonstrated (CAA)

April 2021