Exclusive: Three-step plan unveiled to achieve harmonised nutritional labelling in ASEAN

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

The report hopes to help pave the wave for harmonised ASEAN regulations. ©iStock
The report hopes to help pave the wave for harmonised ASEAN regulations. ©iStock

Related tags Nutrition Food Regulation

A three-step approach has been put forward to help ASEAN move towards a more harmonised regime for nutritional labelling, with a new report revealing that varying standards are contributing towards “the lacklustre export performance of the packaged foods sector”

The report, published by the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA), found the region’s packaged food sector to be highly regulated, with 42.75% of the region's non-tariff measures (NTMs) affecting the industry.

And despite many of the regulation being broadly similar, crucial, “nuanced differences in the labelling requirements prevail across the region,”​ noted the report.

"Specifically, regulatory incoherence is evident from the breakdown of the seven core elements of nutrition labelling. The non-harmonised labelling regulation and the high export coverage of labelling would therefore have profound implications for export performance of packaged foods.”

The report then surveyed 26 food exporters in Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia to gauge their views.

Their feedback revealed that reveal nutrition (function) claims and nutrition reference values (NRVs) in the region are more complex than the International Codex benchmark.

Cost impact

“Importantly, the inconsistencies in regulations are noted even for the established markets in ASEAN, such as Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia,” ​added the report, authored by Dr Evelyn S. Devadason, an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya.

Multiple costs are incurred in complying with nutrition labelling due to an introduction or change in legislative requirement in the ASEAN export market. Apart from the impact on business compliance costs, complex nutrition labelling schemes are found to distort trade through product price increases and/or market- and product losses.”

Therefore, while most of the measures affecting the industry are non-tariff policies, the eventual impact is that they become a barrier to trade.

Despite this, the report found that not all firms surveyed supported mandatory nutrition labelling in ASEAN as a means to achieve harmonisation.

“However, all firms want some form of consistency in nutritional labelling, and therefore support the alignment of the guidelines with Codex and the harmonisation on grounds that common labelling schemes are needed to reduce compliance costs and address the existing information overload on nutrition for consumers for some food products.”

Three factors

In order to move forward the report recommends three next step to boost trade.

First, it is recommended that industry adopts a standard format, aligned to Codex, and identifies the minimum requirements within the code’s basic nutrient list that should be made mandatory.

The second is to streamline Nutrition Reference Values as a priority across the region.

Thirdly, it calls for a consensus to be achived around a standardised Nutrition Information Panel format and design, a common declaration list of carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, and a common approach for functional claims.

The report  concluded that ASEAN should nurture bottom-up approach, especially in dealing with the harmonisation or streamlining of technical requirements.

“At the regional level... input from the food industry is important to harness the concerns of the industry players and undertake regulatory changes that benefit the industry. Representation from the food industry...is essential to inform the discussion on the complexity of the regulations, the extent of incoherence in the regulations, and more importantly on the minimum similarities in the requirements that would benefit the industry and facilitate regional trade.”

The report will be offcially launched in Singapore on February 28.

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