Japan’s New Health Food Labeling System Eases Requirements

On July 30, Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency announced a new health food labeling system that allows businesses to make their own claims of a health food product’s healthiness. The new system, expected to be implemented this fiscal year, is a radical departure from the current “Tokuho” (Japanese acronym meaning ‘Food for Specialized Health Uses,’ or ‘FOSHU’ in English) label approval system.

Under Tokuho, the national government inspects products and approves claims of healthiness. Under the plan outlined by the Consumer Affairs Agency, businesses manufacturing and selling foods will be responsible for food labels. Labels can now include functional claims specifying body parts such as the heart and eyes, something not permitted under Tokuho. For example, companies will be able to claim that a product “relieves eye and nose problems.”

Prior to marketing a product, businesses must notify the Consumer Affairs Agency of the grounds for safety and effectiveness claims as well as quality control methods. This information, in addition to information regarding damage to health, will be made public. Businesses will also be required to display the names of functional ingredients and warnings on the product package, and labels must indicate that the claim has not received government approval.

Businesses in the food industry are welcoming the move to ease regulations on functional food claims. A spokesperson for beverage manufacturer Kirin states, “It’s a sector that is expected to grow, so we plan to keep an eye on the market.” Tsuyoshi Tatai, president of health food giant FANCL Health Science, says that the new labeling system “will contribute to the development of a health industry.”

Market research firm Intage estimates the market for health foods and supplements in 2013 at 1.05325 trillion yen with a customer base of 53.4 million. Potential market size is estimated at over 4 trillion yen.

The Consumer Affairs Agency calls the new system “an unprecedented attempt to enable anyone to check whether a label is consistent with the evidence” and holds that the requirements will ensure that products with insufficient scientific basis do not reach the market. While manufacturers and industry associations show support for the new system, some consumers are apprehensive. Housewives organization Shufuren responded to the announcement with concern, claiming that multiple labeling systems will confuse consumers and voicing the need for effective monitoring


Source: Asahi Shimbun Digital, 31 July 2014,  (Summary translation from Japanese)