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Go East: Inside Asia’s evolving health claims laws

By Shane Starling , 30-Aug-2012

The substantiation and transference into law of varying kinds of data backing food supplements, herbal products and other healthy foods remains a major hurdle in evolving Asian food regulations, an expert has said.

As Asian countries, and groups of Asian countries like ASEAN (the 10-strong Association of South East Asian Nations) , implement regulations around food supplements – often for the first time – agencies like EAS are working with industry and regulators to develop regulations that both ensure safety and promote innovation, said its director, Simon Pettman.

That means putting regulatory systems in place that recognise nutrition science in all its forms including tradition of use data – and not ones that privilege pharma-style intervention trials that may distort markets a la the European Union nutrition and health claims regulation (NHCR).

Strategic necessity

The man who is also the executive director of the International Alliance of Dietary/Food Supplement Associations (IADSA), is a firm believer in the business-driving value of well-written regulation in health claims, labelling and other areas, but warned it can be difficult to make firms see the value in taking a stake in regulatory debates.

“For Asian businesses, regulations do not always have the same level of focus as people might expect in say Europe or the US,” said Pettman, who will chair a debate around these issues at next week’s Vitafoods Asia trade show in Hong Kong.

“But what we have found is that once they are educated about the importance of good regulations, and that they can play an important role in shaping them, that they realise it really is a strategic necessity. Once it goes to the board level more companies are seeing regulation as a vital element in their business strategy.”

While there was a lot of work to do, he said he was encouraged by developments in countries like South Korea, where regulations had been put in place that were seeing many claims make it to market.

In ASEAN, Singapore was possibly the most evolved market in this direction, with many others working their way through regulatory proposals and many keeping an eye on the EU situation.

India has issued draft regulations around claims and labelling, China has streamlined its approved list of claims from 27 to 18, and Japan is conducting a review of the effectiveness of its own FOSHU (Foods For Specified Health Uses) set-up.

“There is no single Asian solution,” Pettman reflected. “It’s an evolutionary process but we are encouraged by what we are seeing.”

More information about the discussion forum can be found here.

The other ASEAN members are Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Laos, Brunei, Cambodia and Myanmar.

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