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HOME  > Past issues  > 2024 March 27 - April 2  > JCP Kokuta warned of dangers of ‘functional foods’ 10 years ago
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2024 March 27 - April 2 TOP3 [SOCIAL ISSUES]

JCP Kokuta warned of dangers of ‘functional foods’ 10 years ago

March 31, 2024
Health hazards from ingesting supplements containing “beni-koji” or red yeast rice malt made by Kobayashi Pharmaceutical have come to light. As of March 28, five people have died and 114 have been hospitalized. The expected damage seems to be spreading also to Taiwan, China, and South Korea.

Ten years ago, a Japanese Communist Party legislator in the Diet expressed concern about the safety of “foods with function claims.” This fact is now going viral on social media.

At that time, the then Prime Minister Abe intended to make Japan “the most business-friendly country in the world” through deregulation, declaring that he would lift the restrictions on labeling of food products with specific health benefits so that companies could enter the market without having to spend much money on researching the safety and functionality of food ingredients.

On March 25, 2014, JCP member of the House of Representatives Kokuta Keiji at a meeting of the Lower House Committee on Consumer Affairs warned, “In the worst case, it would be life-threatening, and it will be too late if that happens”. He demanded that food labeling regulations be tightened, not eased.

Kokuta at that time criticized the government intent, pointing a finger at the lack of scientific evidence. He said, “It will be all up to companies to label what health benefits their products have. Does the government really believe that a functional food labeling system can stop health hazards caused by health foods, or can reduce the damage?”

The Abe government paid no heed to possible problems and introduced the functional food labeling system in 2015.

Even after the introduction of the new labeling system, Saito Kazuko and Umemura Saeko, both JCP members of the Lower House at that time, in the Diet continued to take up cases in which “functional” foods labeled with health claims contained ingredients that caused irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure.

The labeling system requires companies to only note functional foods with health benefits and submit scientific references to the Consumer Affairs Agency. Clinical trials of these foods on human subjects are not necessary, and there is no government review. Some research papers on those foods are not even peer-reviewed by third-party experts.
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