Cost and claims concerns: South Korean consumers wary about applying functional health claims to general foods

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

The South Korean authorities are looking at applying functional claims to general food. ©Getty Images
The South Korean authorities are looking at applying functional claims to general food. ©Getty Images

Related tags: Health claims, Functional food, Korea

South Korean consumers have raised concerns, including fears of price hikes and a spike in fake health claims, when the country permits some functional health claims to be applied to general foods.

This is according to a consumer survey​ conducted by the Consumer Federation of Korea, which took place between April 22 and May 6, involving 540 consumers in their 20s to 60s.

Nearly 80% of the respondents said functional food labelling was helpful and reliable. However, a substantial number raised concerns with the system.

About one-third (30.2%) said they were concerned about excessive price hike due to the proposed new functional food labelling rules and 37.6% were worried that the system of functional labelling for general foods would lead to the rise of fake health claims.

As a result, consumers surveyed have demanded for heavy penalties for companies that violated labelling regulations.

More than half (56.3%) said the firms should be “severely punished”​ if they have made false health claims.

"There is a need for sufficient consumer research, and the labelling of functional food claims should be done through this,"​ Kang Jeong Hwa, vice chairman of the Korea Consumers Federation told local media Food Today.

"It is necessary to establish a labelling system based on scientific evidence,”​ he added.

To prepare for the implementation of the new system, the South Korean government will formulate the indicators of food functionality and discuss labelling requirements and the range of claims applicable in the next six months.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Livestock said it would cooperate with the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) in the case of a sudden price increase for certain products.

"If a specific product rises sharply without any special reason, we will cooperate smoothly with the FTC,"​ said Lee Yong-jik, director of the food industry promotion department at the ministry.

The South Korean authorities gave the green light for implementing functional health claims system on general foods following the enactment of the Enforcement Decree of the Act on the Labelling and Advertisement of Food.

Regulations streamlined

On the other hand, South Korean's authorities also said that they would simplify the documentation and evaluation process for HACCP-certified food manufacturers who wish to obtain a license for manufacturing health supplements.

Also, raw materials that are proven to be safe and functional in other countries are allowed to be used as raw materials for health supplements in South Korean.

In the past, ingredients used for dietary supplements overseas cannot be used in health supplements sold in South Korean if these ingredients are also used to make medicines in the country.

These includes examples such as Echinacea and alpha-GPC, which are used for boosting immunity and cognitive ability respectively. They are recognised as safe for use in dietary supplements in other countries but not in South Korean previously.

Also, previously, HACCP-certified food manufacturers were required to apply for certification similar to the HACCP in order to operate a health functional food manufacturing business. The process, was however, time-consuming and duplicates the HACCP-certification process.

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