When you go shopping at supermarkets to purchase foodstuff, you check the product: materials, expiration date of freshness and shelf, origin of production, food additives and other details. However, currently three laws work on foodstuff labeling, which produces loopholes. For this reason the Consumer Affairs Agency looks into the situation to overhaul the labeling practices.
A NEW LAW MUST PROTECT RIGHTS OF CONSUMERS
Three basic laws are applied to food labeling: JAS (=Japanese Agricultural Standard) Act, Food Sanitation Act and Health Promotion Act.
The JAS Act regulates food quality, such as ingredients, gene modification, expiration date of consumption and etc. The Food Sanitation Act is applied to safety with indications of allergic substances, additives and etc., and the Health Promotion Act works on nutrition elements of food, such as sources of calories, protein and carbon-hydrate.
The government approved to unify these laws to a single act and revise content and design a new form. The Consumer Affairs Agency is working on drafting, planned to present it to the 2013 Diet ordinary session.
The Agency, following the cabinet decision made last July to partially modify the basic plan on consumers, set up a panel last September to unify the existing laws. It is comprised of consumers' associations, experts and food industry people, and has discussed major points, inviting opinions from citizens. It will finalize a report by the end this month.
Food Industry Wants De-regulated Form of Labeling
The food labeling issue is old and new for consumers. In 1960, when the labeling was legally imposed, the Japan Housewives Association detected a false labeling and campaigned: a canned beef product was proven to be meat of whale and horse. In 1981 Tokyo Bar Association proposed to enact a basic law on food safety.
A decision on the current unification process was made mainly due to the government's failure in the two incidents: in 2007 many false food products were distributed and in 2008 some people developed symptoms of poisoning after eating frozen gyoza-dumplings of Chinese origin. Due to absence of a unified regulatory mechanism, government could not cope with the incidents effectively.
People pay a close attention to the food labeling as is seen in the participation of approximately 180-people audience of consumers' associations and industry every time when a meeting of the panel is held.
Representatives from the industry are eager to insist on a more deregulated way of labeling, saying that 'it will cost more to make detailed descriptions to push up the selling price', 'detailed data make consumers confused', and etc.
The food industry provably wants to cheat consumers with a fake label, or to use an easier way to sell more. This issue directly connects with health and life of people. An evil business intention must be excluded.
Rights of Consumers
A food label is a vital means for consumers to judge a product. They examine goods by reading the described information. It is the right of consumers to know merchandise correctly. A lawyer Kamiyama Michiko, Representative of Civic Committee on Food Safety and Monitoring, gave a lecture in the symposium held last November on unification of food labeling laws.
She told; 'consumers have rights to know, to choose and to live in safety. Unless the government is determined to guarantee these rights by legislation, a unified act, even if it is enacted, may be useless for consumers'. Her point is crucial. She added: 'it is we, consumers, who are responsible for taking advantage of a new, plain labeling system'.
June 5, 2012