The General Incorporated Association of International Foods & Nutrition (AIFN) held a symposium by bringing together Japanese and foreign experts under the theme of "Safety Reassurance and Quality Control of functional health foods." The symposium was co-organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and co-sponsored by the Japan Allied Health Food Industry Associations and the Japan Direct Marketing Association (JADMA), under the auspices of the Certification Management Council for In-house Safety Assessment of Health Foods.
On June 5, 2013, in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's speech on the third round of policies under his growth strategy, he pledged to "lift the ban on functional claims displayed on health foods."
He explained the aim of that as follows: "At present, unless a food product is recognized as a 'Food for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU)' ("Tokuho" in Japanese) by the national government, it is not permitted to indicate health effects such as 'builds strong bones' anywhere on the product. But getting such recognition takes both money and time. It seems fair to say that for people running small and medium enterprises and micro enterprises in particular, the doors to opportunity are in fact closed. In the United States, it is possible to assert functional claims on a product as long as there is also a clear and proper indication that these health claims have not received government approval. A company only needs to submit notification to the national government later. This lifting of the ban is not limited simply to bringing our system in line with the rest of the world. With an eye to expanding the market for agricultural products overseas, I would like to examine arrangements that promote functional claims in a manner that is more easily understood by consumers than the methods used by other countries. Our aim is not to be 'in line with the rest of the world.' Rather, we aim to stand at the very frontier internationally. We will make it easier for companies to flourish in Japan than anywhere else in the world. That is the basic policy of the Abe Cabinet." In the "Using health enhancement function of food" section of the Japan Revitalization Strategy that was decided by the Cabinet on June 14, the positioning of the policy was spelled out: "Concerning processed food such as so-called 'health food,' etc. and agricultural, forestry and marine products, the government will commence studies within this fiscal year on new measures to describe functionalities based on scientific grounds under corporate responsibility and implement the measures after obtaining results within the next fiscal year. It will give consideration with a feasible management system including security in mind, referring to the dietary supplement labeling system in the U.S. where not the public but companies and other organizations can evaluate scientific grounds by themselves and describe the ground of evaluation and functionality."
In light of this, preparations are under way principally by the Consumer Affairs Agency to make functional labeling possible on health foods. However, the U.S. system is proving challenging to fully understand, despite it being referenced in Prime Minister Abe's speech and the Cabinet decision as a model for a new system that differs from current ones such as FOSHU. A discussion of specifics will most likely involve a look at case studies from the U.S. to determine how to consider safety and functionality. This will allow for the inclusion into a functional labeling system materials and foods with related components that are difficult to make clear in the same way as FOSHU as well as foods with multiple and disparate ingredients that combine to achieve a certain function.
The offering of this symposium was planned with the aim of triggering thought about how to extend the nation's "healthy life expectancy" and realize growth strategies the government has in mind. The aim of building a system that fosters industry with a greater degree of freedom than the current system, as well as the goal of function labeling that is both easy to understand for health foods that feature more than just a single ingredient, both provoke thought about what sort of a system would be on the global cutting edge. The resulting question is how to guarantee safety while making use of health foods to promote the health of consumers. Hopefully, the symposium has provided the opportunity for thought about this and was intended to achieve the following three objectives.
To understand the quality control and safety reassurance of health foods and supplements, based on the dietary supplement labeling system in the United States and global trends.
To provide the opportunity to give information, promote understanding, and exchange opinions regarding the relevant issues in cooperation with the Japanese government.
To foster understanding of laws and regulations of functional labeling in view of international trends.
Keynote Discussion: Heizo Takenaka, a professor of Keio University and a member of the Industrial Competitiveness Council, Yoichi Sekiguchi, a committee of Study Group (president of the Health Food Industry Council), and Kazuyoshi Miyajima (the director of the Japan Direct Marketing Association) clarified current issues and future directions, confirming that all efforts should be made as industry to correct the current attitudes of the Consumer Affairs Agency. Thus, experts in Japan and abroad presented and discussed the quality control and safety reassurance of health foods required by consumers, and confirmed the following points:
To aim for the building of a system that fosters industry with a greater degree of freedom than the current system, and to label function in a manner that is easy to understand for health foods that feature more than just a single ingredient.
To facilitate the health utility labeling of functional ingredients and materials based on scientific grounds, quality control and safety reassurance should be ensured by the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), global standards for supplements, and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), global standards for foods, with open, flexible, and harmonized processes maintained as prerequisites.
The qualities of functional ingredients and materials should be ensured based on scientific grounds.
Transparency should be ensured to facilitate consumers' judgments based on sufficient information.
Flexibility should be ensured for manufacturers to meet consumers' needs cost-effectively.
Harmonization should be ensured by eliminating tariff barriers to facilitate sales by foreign companies.
Comprehensive approaches should be taken to facilitate the participation of companies regardless of their sizes and locations.