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Functional Foods in Japan

Whenever the subject of functional food or nutraceutical is raised, reference to Japan is almost inevitable. Compared to North America or Europe, Japan is far ahead in labelling legislation, product development and consumer awareness of products. This in part is the result of pressure by Japanese food manufacturers, but there can be no doubt that the Japanese consumer is also a factor.


As early as 1984 the term “functional food” was used by Japanese Ministry of Education Science and Culture as the Japanese began to recognize the health problems associated with an aging population. At the same time there was an ever increasing desire to verify the reports that certain foods and their ingredients could be useful in combating many chronic diseases. The Japanese in their wisdom decided to both increase funding of basic research related to food / health matters and also to set up a mechanism whereby food manufacturers could receive official approval for the claims they wished to make about their food products. It was decided that eleven categories of foods or ingredients could be identified that had potential health benefits based on the current scientific evidence. These categories ranged from dietary fiber, to lactobacillus to minerals.

By 1991 the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare had in place a policy that allowed food manufacturers to declare that their product was a “food for specific health use’ or FOSHU if it could be shown that the food or an ingredient was on the approved list of eleven. The Japanese consumer was therefore assured that any food designated as FOSHU was expected to have a specific effect on health due to it composition. By early 1996 a total of sixty-nine products had been approved as FOSHU.

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