Nutrition Research Reviews

Research Article

Health claims on functional foods: the Japanese regulations and an international comparison

Toshio Shimizua1 c1

a1 Fresco Japan Ltd. Z-22-20-102, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan


The Japanese scientific academic community defined ‘functional food’ early in the 1980s. That is, functional foods are those that have three functions. The primary function is nutrition. The secondary function is a sensory function or sensory satisfaction. The third is the tertiary function, which is physiological. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) set up ‘Foods for Specified Health Use’ (FOSHU) in 1991 as a regulatory system to approve the statements made on food labels concerning the effect of the food on the human body. Food products applying for approval by FOSHU are scientifically evaluated in terms of their effectiveness and safety by the Council of Pharmaceutical Affairs and Food Hygiene under the MHLW. The regulatory range of FOSHU was broadened in 2001 to accept the forms of capsules and tablets in addition to those of conventional foods. FOSHU increased the total to about 330 items in January 2003. The MHLW enacted a new regulatory system, ‘Foods with Health Claims’, in April 2001, which consists of the existing FOSHU system and the newly established ‘Foods with Nutrient Function Claims’ (FNFC). Under the FNFC, twelve vitamins (vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C, E, D, biotin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and niacin) and two minerals (Ca and Fe) are standardized. Examples of claims regarding these substances are as follows: ‘Calcium is a nutrient which is necessary to form bones and teeth’; ‘Vitamin D is a nutrient which promotes calcium absorption in the gut intestine and aids in the formation of bones.’ The upper and lower levels of the daily consumption of these nutrients are also determined. The labelling of functional foods should always be based on scientific evidence and be in harmony with international standards. The nutrient–function claim was adopted in the guidelines for nutrition claims by the Codex Alimentarius in 1997. The claims of the Japanese FNFC are equivalent to the nutrient function claims standardized by the Codex Alimentarius. The enhanced function claim and the disease risk-reduction claims were proposed by both the Codex Alimentarius and an Economic Union project in 1999. The structure function claim, which is similar to the enhanced function claim, was enacted by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act in the USA in 1994. Most of the statements of the Japanese FOSHU system are close to the category of structure/function claims in the USA or the enhanced function claims of the Codex Alimentarius.