Increased regional food trade and clearer nutrition labels are just some of the benefits a harmonised approach to nutrition labelling can achieve, highlighted the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) at the recent International Life Sciences Institute South East Asia Region’s (ILSI) 8th Seminar on Nutrition Labeling, Claims and Communications Strategies.

Held late last month in Jakarta and attended by AFBA Chairman for Indonesia Mr Adhi Lukman and AFBA Chairman for Thailand Dr Pichet Itkor, one of the key objectives of the seminar was to explore opportunities for the harmonisation of nutrition labelling and claims in South East Asia.

Mr Lukman, who presented during the open seminar, said: “Despite the agreement on the ASEAN Common Principals and Requirements for the labelling of prepackaged foods, there is a significant divergence in label formats and permitted claims between countries in the region.

“Differences in mandatory and voluntary requirements; differing minimum and maximum limits for vitamins and minerals; variance in tolerance of nutrition information panel (NIP)-stated levels; and differing daily reference values for nutrients lead to a number of significant challenges for consumers, regulators and the industry across ASEAN.

“For example, varying nutrient tolerance levels between countries result in substantial additional production costs with many companies needing to develop different formulations of the same product to meet all markets requirements.

“This leads to over-cluttered and unclear food labels for consumers; additional complexities in recipe management; validations and analysis for the industry and additional regulator resource requirements to resolve confusion and provide clarity on the interpretations in different markets.

“This not only impedes intra-and-extra regional food trade, impacting food availability and the region’s overall economic growth, it also creates confusion for consumers,” he said.

Dr Itkor, who also presented, said: “This seminar provided an important platform for multi-stakeholder discussions on this, and other important topics related to nutrition labelling, claims and communication strategies in South East Asia.

“It brought together a wide range of stakeholders from Government, the Industry and Academia and AFBA was pleased to have been invited to take part.”

The ILSI seminar also included updates on recent developments in Front-of-pack (FOP) signposting, as well as the use of nutrition labeling and claims as educational tools, and consumer understanding of these labels. Country-specific updates on nutrition labeling and claims regulations from eight ASEAN countries were also shared.

For more information about harmonising food standards, please visit the AFBA website.

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