Far East digest
Taiwan FDA cracks down on imports from Fukushima
Taiwan’s food regulator has found 24 companies in breach of regulations that prevent the import of products from areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The findings involve 381 items associated with entry documents inconsistent with the products they represented in all but one case. The twenty-fourth company had not followed proper customs clearance procedures.
According to the Act Governing Food Safety and Sanitation, offenders could be fined up to around US$100,000 and lose the right to import their goods into Taiwan.
Authorities had ramped up inspections after investigators found some Japanese food imports carrying Chinese labels different from the actual place of origin. This practice is allowed in Japan but that is not the case in Taiwan.
Under measures implemented in May, all items must carry prefecture-specific labels of origin, with some foods from listed prefectures required to be screened and certified through radiation checks.
Subsequently, the Control Yuan, Taiwan’s government watchdog, criticised the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the health ministry for implementing “inefficient policies” that failed to prohibit radioactive foods being imported from Japan. It also highlighted procedural mistakes by the regulator and the ministry.
Members of the Control Yuan alleged that a “verification system” was yet to be set up, even though food imports from the radioactive regions in Japan were banned in March 2011. This, they said, gave “unlicensed manufacturers the chance to modify the regions of production on the legal documents as they saw fit”, as had been evidenced by the import breaches.
Japanese exports picking up speed in Hong Kong
A weak yen is behind Hong Kong’s continuing status as the top destination for Japanese food exports as they recover from a sharp downturn in the wake of Fukushima.
The SAR imported produce worth HK$8.48m (US$1.1m) from Japan, accounting for 22% of Japan’s total export volume. The figure was up 7.5% on the previous year.
Hiroshi Onomura, director general of the Japan External Trade Organisation, begged Hong Kong residents to trust Japanese produce
“We have radiation checks in Japan. There is no problem about the produce because the Japanese government is very strict. Further, when the produce arrives in Hong Kong, the Health Department conducts another radiation check,” he said.
“The depreciation of the yen attracts more tourists to Japan and this gives a chance for people to learn about Japanese food culture and Japanese produce.”
Calorific information now required for drinks mixed on premises in Taiwan
Beverages made on the premises of Taiwanese tea vendors, convenience stores and fast-food chains must now show their sugar and calorific content, along with other information such as place of origin.
Beginning on July 31, the FDA now requires to give full explanations of beverages they have available.
Hot beverages like tea or coffee are either required to show sugar values in scientific terms or convert these into the number of sugar cubes added to the drinks.
“If a full-sugar beverage requires five cubes, then it should display five sugar cubes, 100 Kcal, on the label,” the regulations state.
The regulation has already been criticised by companies affected, who say it is difficult to implement and too difficult to source correct calorific figures.
Transgressors will be fined between NT$30,000 and NT$3m (US$1,000-100,000). A higher penalty of NT$40,000 to NT$4m will be awarded to those who falsely label their products.
Japan’s stance on trans fats criticised by labelling officials
Japan’s laissez-faire stance on the use of trans fats has sparked criticism in the wake of the US Food and Drug Administration’s move to phase out the oil from all processed foods over three years.
By contrast to the United States, the Japanese diet is relatively free of trans fats with consumption at levels far below the threshold set by the World Health Organisation.
Japanese food officials said they would not amend their policies to reflect the US stance. “We consider the health effect [of trans fat] on the current Japanese diet is miniscule. We don’t plan on setting specific intake limits in Japan,” one health official told Japan Times.
But some experts have criticised the government’s stance, saying Japan should at least start requiring food manufacturers to display the amount of trans fats on product packages.
“It’s wrong not to require disclosure of trans fat information [by] citing low levels of consumption in Japan, when countries such as China and South Korea, whose intake levels are lower than in Japan, have moved to mandatory disclosure,” said a member of the Food Safety Commission of Japan’s labelling committee.
Givaudan expands into Tokyo
Givaudan, the fragrance and flavours major company, has moved into Tokyo’s city centre with new offices and a technical centre as part of a CHF12m (US$12.5m) investment.
The 4,000 square-metre premises include sales and marketing and supply chain departments alongside labs offering technical services including flavour creation and application, flavour science and sensory science.
“The new technical centre will enable us to deliver more in-depth dialogue with customers, better collaboration on flavour and taste concept development and a faster response,” said Gilles Andrier, Givaudan’s chief executive.
The company has appointed Fabrizio Raho, formerly its business head for Asean and Oceania, to lead its Japanese operation.
“Japan is the most advanced and sophisticated food market in the world and Givaudan is committed succeeding further in this marketplace,” said.