Consumer Affairs Agency to require country of origin labeling on all processed foods

TOKYO, Aug. 2 – The Consumer Affairs Agency will require labeling of country of origin for all processed foods starting as early as the end of August. Amid the increase of food imports, the move is aimed at making it easier for consumers to distinguish between foreign products and domestically-produced foods, thus helping boost consumption of Japan-made products.

Up till now, only a part of low-processed foods, such as dried mushrooms, were subject to such requirements. There will be a transition period for food companies to adapt to the new system which will fully come into force in April 2022.

Under the new system, it will become mandatory for retailers to provide country of origin for the main ingredient, by weight, used in a product. When the main ingredient is imported from multiple countries, the countries of origin should in principle be listed in descending order of predominance by weight.

Meanwhile, the agency included an escape clause so that food companies which frequently change their products’ country of origin won’t have to change the labeling. For instance, when a major ingredient comes from three or more countries or sources that frequently change, they will be allowed to use labels of “imported or domestically produced.”

According to the estimate by the Japanese Consumers’ Cooperative Union, under the new system, only 20 to 30 percent of processed foods will show countries of origin, while the rest will come under the exceptional rule. The union officials expressed concern about whether information will be properly disclosed to consumers, considering that the country of origin labeling will not apply to many products.

Furthermore, for some processed foods including jam, additives could become the main ingredient by weight, which means consumers may not necessarily be able to obtain the information they need. For example, if sugar becomes the main ingredient of jam, the country of origin labeling for the product will show the country where sugar was refined.

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