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Updates on the Food labelling regulations current status of each country

Introduction

Since our previous article on the latest trends of Foods and Food labelling regulations in 2019, there has been a sudden big change to the market due to the global health circumstances accruing in view of the COVID-19. Consequently, a considerable raise of health products and Food supplements was observed responding to the consumers' needs to enhance their immunity system. Therefore, efforts to prevent misleading and guarantee the Food safety and quality for consumers have been remarkable on an international scale. Labeling remains the ultimate key to deliver the right information and ease the choice of products to us.

In this article, we would like to talk about the latest updates for each country in comparison with the actual Japanese Labeling regulations status. This time, the health trend's factor is prioritized over others.

1. Updates about nutrition labelling

According to the US regulations, nutrition labelling is mandatory for mostly all processed food products (bakery, frozen, canned, beverages, confectionary etc.) while being voluntary for conventional food products (raw: fruits, vegetables, fish). The updated nutrition facts labels are already being seen on packaged food products. Deadlines are already met for manufacturers regardless of their annual sales, those with single-ingredient sugars products (like honey, maple syrup, certain cranberry products) still have the chance till the 1st of next July. On the other hand, Japan's mandatory nutrition labelling law enforcement transition period for all processed foods has already reached an end last March 2020.
On the other hand, the European commission (EC) is currently projecting to submit a proposal of 'harmonizing' the mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling and restricting certain claims in cooperation with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is currently working on preparing the required scientific advice before March 2022.

The front-of-pack nutrition labelling is also a going on concern in the UK. The concept is based on the multiple 'traffic light' label allowing consumers to better understand the contents of a product in fat, saturated fat, sugar, salt (high (red), medium (amber), or low (green), and calories (a neutral background). The consultations for opinions seeking a better understanding of consumers perception for this nutrition labelling system have ended by November 2020.
Following the end of transition period of Brexit at the end of 2020, a guidance should have been started from January 1st ,2021 in UK with regard to the existing regulations in EU about nutrition-related labelling, composition and standards and so on.
Talking about 'traffic lights and colours, on October 10th ,2019 and in its continuous fight against the growing rates of type 2 diabetes among society, the Ministry of health (Singapore) has announced that the "Nutri-Grade" (also called FOP) will be mandatory for all pre-packaged non-alcoholic drinks with a high sugar or saturated fat content.
The nutrient summary section of the label will be displayed in four colour-coded grades (green, light green, orange, red) with the following letters (A to D) reflecting the contents in sugar or saturated fat. While the letters D refers to the unhealthiest level of both contents, sellers/producers are not allowed to have any related mass media advertisements. The government is now encouraging manufacturers to adopt a reformulation strategy for healthier beverages.
Despite the differences in the ideas or process, the final goal remains the same: Protect and improve consumers health by preventing obesity and any resulting diseases.

Although the above is the general understanding of nutrition labelling in most of the countries, when it comes to 'health' products, the categorization is quite different depending on the government itself. Please check our article to understand the labelling system when it comes to health foods in Japan.

2. Updates related to additives

Food additives allowance is also a constantly changing matter depending on new scientific evidence arising or on long term results occurring due to the use of certain substances in foods. Attention is also given to the labelling method of additives to prevent misleading consumers or confusing them such as using the terms 'Artificial' or 'synthetic' for sweeteners, preservatives, colouring or flavouring which were agreed for removal from the Food d labelling standards in Japan from July 16th, 2020. The existing labelling is still permitted for processed foods manufactured, processed, or imported up to March 31, 2022 (excluding processed foods for business use) and additives of processed foods for business use sold up to March 31, 2022.

South Korea has also issued a partial amendment notice on March 09th, 2021, effective immediately, related to the Food Additives standards and specifications. The main point addressed was related to expanding the scope for the recognition of the natural origin of food additives, particularly benzoic acid that can be detected naturally in trace amounts, and which do not exhibit any technical effects nor affect safety. In addition to that, the standards for use have been revised for 4 additives (ethyl acetate, isopropyl alcohol, nisin and sorbic acid) and improved for food disinfectants, along with other regulations reorganization/updates related to sterilization and disinfectants of utensils, etc., testing methods for 8 food additives such as disodium 5'-ribonucleotide and revision of the manufacturing methods of fuchsin sulfurous acid test solution.

There has also been a few announcements and updates related to the additives and their standards for use in Canada and Taiwan. We advise you to check the news page of the Canadian government and 'Taiwan Food and Drug Administration'.

3. Claims and warning statements

A lot of focus has been on claims of health-related products to prevent misleading consumers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Japan, the CAA (Consumer Affairs Agency) has issued a notice recently regarding the use of health claims without any scientific evidence to promote preventive effects against the virus. The notice came to protect consumers from misleading. and ensure transparency.
The CAA has also conducted three discussions so far approving the use of ''disease risk reduction'' claims on FOSHU (Foods for Specified Health Uses) products if an appropriate scientific evidence has been established medically and nutritionally.
Currently, calcium counting 30 approved cases and folic acid with no cases yet are among the components involved. For more details, you can referrer to our article stipulating examples of disease risk reduction claims in Japan and abroad.
In Singapore the control of health claims use is also an adopted strategy, only from a precise list of permitted health claims and under certain criteria can be used. We highly recommend referring to the Vitamins and Nutrients Calculator for further guidance.

On the other hand, and related to gluten free labelling, the US has released a notice related to the labelling of fermented or hydrolyzed foods that we have summarized as follows:

Country

Content

US

Notice date: August 13, 2020.
Effective date: October 13, 2020.
Content
This notice highlights the compliance requirements for "gluten-free" labelling of fermented or hydrolyzed foods or that contain fermented or hydrolyzed ingredients.
As the FDA did not detect any analytical method effective in detecting and quantifying equivalent amounts of intact gluten proteins till now, foods bearing 'gluten free' claims will be judged based on the manufacturer's records. The point is to make sure that gluten cross contamination during the manufacturing process is not possible and that all prevention measures are met.
Through this notice, the FDA is making efforts to "ensure that individuals with celiac disease are not mislead and receive truthful and accurate information".

We also advise you to read through "Regulation (EU) 2020/1693 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 November 2020 amending Regulation (EU) 2018/848 on organic production and labelling of organic products as regards its date of application and certain other dates referred to in that Regulation." that has been issued on November 20th, 2020 in relation to organic production and labelling of organic products to check the new deadlines for the application of the rules following repeal of Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007.
If you are worried about how things are in the UK, The European Commission has recognized the 6 organic certification schemes operating in the UK for a year post Brexit from January 1st, 2021.

4. Allergen labelling

Allergens are also a very important matter especially for consumers who are highly sensitive to some ingredients. The latest updates on allergens labelling were related to the following countries:

Country

Details

UK

Notice date: October 01st, 2020.
Effective date: October 01st, 2021.
Content

Before, some consumers trusted that no allergens are contained considering the lack of information on the allergen's contents and ingredients on prepacked foods for direct sales (PPDS), while others tend to ask the staff about the contents. However, that did not seem to be effective and protective enough. Thus, following the repetitive allergens related incidents and to protect consumers with food allergies and intolerances, it will be now required to label these products with the name of the food, a full ingredients list, and with allergenic ingredients emphasized within the list.

PPDS means foods packaged at the same selling/offering place to consumers and is in this packaging before being ordered or selected (e.g.: Tuna sandwich, bakery products, salad, or pasta pots).
The following 14 ingredients have been identified as potent allergens: celery, cereals containing gluten (such as barley and oats), crustaceans (such as prawns, crabs, and lobsters), eggs, fish, lupin, milk, molluscs (such as mussels and oysters), mustard, peanuts, sesame, soybeans, sulphur dioxide and sulphites (above 10ppm) and tree nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios, and macadamia nuts)
They must be emphasized in the list such as bold, and phrases such as "may contain" or "not suitable for" are acceptable.
It is applicable in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Australia
New Zealand

Notice date: February 25th, 2021.
Effective date: Immediately
Transition period: 3 years
Content

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (the Code) has introduced the following new requirements for the food allergens labelling:

  • specific format and location on food labels
  • using simple, plain English terms in bold font
  • In the ingredient's statements, required names must be listed as a separate word for each ingredient unless the ingredient name is identical to the required name or is contained in the name of the ingredient: e.g., sesame seeds, buttermilk (milk)
  • Summary statement of all the mandatory ingredient declarations using the required names starting with 'Contains' and following the required form, e.g., Contains sesame, gluten, almond, milk. Allergens related to tree nuts and seafood must be declared by the required names.

Conclusion

To conclude and as previously mentioned, governments efforts are divided now between working on updates and improvements of Food labelling regulations and controlling health Foods claiming effects related to enhanced immunity and prevention from COVID-19.

All these efforts are in favor of consumers, to avoid misleading and unfortunate consequences for consuming such products.

For exporters of Food products to the UK, labelling regulations and requirements might be quite confusing following the Brexit. We highly advise you to always read alongside any EU Exit legislation that was made to ensure retained EU law operates correctly in a UK context.

May 2021