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Top 5 regulatory challenges facing Asia Pacific's functional food industry in 2020

2020-01-22 14:30 Wednesday


Nutrition and healthy eating are increasingly on the agenda for governments throughout the Asia Pacific region. Several major regulatory and policy updates are due to come into effect in 2020, or are expected in the food and beverages industry in these countries.

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From hemp regulations to sugar taxes, let's take a look at five of the main issues affecting industry players over the next 12 months and discuss the main implications that these changes might bring for consumers and manufacturers alike.

Sugar taxes in ASEAN

Over the past year, sugar taxes has been one of the hottest topics in the Asia Pacific nutraceuticals and functional food industry, especially in SE Asia. Malaysia joined in with its own sugar tax implementation in July 1 last year, and whilst Singapore didn't enforce outright taxation it did introduce mandatory color-coded nutrition labels and banned advertising for highly-sweetened beverages.

Industry players and academics continue to debate the outcomes and benefits of such a tax. One thing that most of them agree on is that consumer attitudes are the main driver for the transformation.

Thailand's salt taxes

Particularly in Thailand, excise taxes on products with a high salt content have been mentioned more frequently in the APAC region as of late. If Thailand did implement the tax on certain categories of food products, the most likely to be hit would be instant foods such as noodles and instant porridge, along with savory snacks.

Some experts think that a salt tax would be more complicated to implement than the sugar tax related to sweetened beverages in sealed containers. It also remains to be seen whether this would be worthwhile for its health benefits, especially as even the country's existing sugar tax as yet to show solid results.

Local experts agree that hypertension is a public health problem and the consumers should curb their salt (sodium) intake, but there is disagreement on whether a salt tax would be the right way to go about it.

APAC Hemp regulations

Hemp was approved as a legitimate food ingredient in Australia three years ago, and in New Zealand two years ago, but for the rest of the Asia Pacific region, the regulatory landscape is still murky.

In terms of other APAC countries, Thailand and China are regarded as the 2 countries with the most potential for hemp regulatory developments to take place in 2020, especially with the former having recently approved the use of some hemp extracts in a few areas such as drugs and herbal nutraceuticals. Look out for further clarification and possibly regulation from more countries later this year.

Cell-based meats and other novel foods regulations in Singapore

The recently-established Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the country's main food regulatory body, has said it views cell-based meats, alternative proteins and other innovative foods as an industry with significant potential.

With this in mind, the city-state is implementing expert research into these fields to determine the appropriate enforcement of any necessary regulations. This topic will also be a main area of focus for the also newly-established Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation.

In a press release, SFA commented: "Since novel foods do not have a history of being consumed by humans as food, they may pose food safety risks. Their safety must be assessed before they can be allowed to be used in food for sale."

NZ, Australia Health Star Rating Initiatives

In 2019, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand's (FSANZ) Health Star Rating (HSR) system became the subject of controversy in the Oceana region, for grounds ranging from its non-mandatory status to unhealthy products receiving high star scores.

Ministers in Australia and New Zealand completed a 5-year review of the system at the end of last year, and said it would remain voluntary, but suggested some improvements such stricter governance in areas such as sugar, sodium and dairy to "increase efficiency".


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