On March 27, 2017, the government has invited the public to comment (hereafter, public comment) on the proposed Cabinet Office Ordinance to amend part of the Food Labeling Standard. It has also released the “Guidelines concerning the new COOL system for ingredients (supplementary material)” in Q&A format. Here we provide you with an outline of the new information added to the interim report on expanding COOL requirements for ingredients.
Frequent changes in ingredient origins
The term “frequent” referred to in the following part of the interim report –“As for the feasibility of mandatory COOL, the burdens experienced by the businesses and resulting from frequent changes in the origin of ingredients (e.g., the change of packaging, burdensome work, etc.) need to be taken into account”– has been defined in the Guidelines.
The Guidelines now specifies “one year”: “The proportion and origin of ingredients in the product are subject to change within a year (including time preparing the label)…” This applies to the “Listing of Possible suppliers” and “All Inclusive” labeling, as well as a combination of the two.
Purchasing records and plans over a defined period of time
The term “a defined period of time” referred to in the interim report –“Past purchasing patterns per country over a defined period of time or future purchasing plans (a temporary plan for a defined period of time for new products and so on)”– has been clarified in the Guidelines.
The Guidelines now define it as a “one-year period”: “As for the past purchasing record, it must at least cover a period of one year within three years prior to the year of production. However, if the purchasing record has lasted for less than a year, it must have been established within 2 years prior to the year of production”, “As for the purchasing plan, it must be a plan set for one year or less from the scheduled start date of production.”
Suppliers accounting for only a small proportion
The term “a small proportion” referred to in the following part of the interim report –“In order to prevent misleading the consumer one can, for example, declare the percentage amount when mentioning a supplying country whose ingredient proportion in the specific product is very small, or do not provide a ‘made in xx’ statement on the label for that country”– has been defined in the Guidelines.
The proportion is now established at “less than 5%”, as a standard to prevent misleading consumers: “The small proportion is deemed to be less than 5%”, “For ‘Listing of Possible Suppliers’ labeling, if past purchasing records indicate that the proportion is less than 5%, a statement such as ‘less than 5%’ immediately after the name of the supplying country, must be provided in brackets.”
The “transition period” referred to in the interim report –“An adequate transition period will be provided for the implementation of the new labeling system, giving consideration to business operators who will be required the replace their existing packaging”– has been given in the Guidelines.
“Transition period ends on March 31, 2020”
Other points to note in actual practice
We have provided excerpts from the Guidelines below, some points that you should consider, assuming that you are actually dealing with the new COOL system for ingredients.
Examples of supporting documents to keep on hand
- Invoices or packing lists that show supplying countries.
- Product specifications or other documentations with information on supplying countries, allowing to ensure if the specifications actually correspond to the product by cross-checking with the packaging, invoices or packing information.
- Documents and so on confirming that procured ingredients were used in the corresponding product (e.g., production logs, instructions, etc.)
How long should files be kept
The retention periods of documents for products with origin claim are respectively:
- One year after the expiry of best before (use by) date.
- Five years after the date of production, for products exempted from ‘best-before’ date labeling.
Rationality required for purchasing plans（where no reasonable explanation is provided）
- i) Despite the origin claim of “Country A, B or others”, the product used ingredients not from Country A or B but from countries included in “others” during the planned period.
- ii) Despite the origin claim of “Country A, B or others”, the product used ingredients from either A or B, but not both during the planned period.
Processes that cannot claim the mention “produced domestically”（imported semi-processed ingredients）
If the product uses a semi-processed ingredient which “underwent a fundamental change in nature” in Japan, it can make a “produced domestically” claim.
(The Guidelines also include some examples of processes not “resulting in a fundamental change”.)
Labeling requirements for processed food products for professional use
- If a product for professional use and subject to COOL (the largest ingredient by weight in the final product) is used in the final product, the label must state the product origin.
- If the product underwent some minor processing, like cutting or packing which does not meet the criteria to make a “produced” claim and is sold as a final (and domestic) product for professional use, the label must state the ingredient origin subject to COOL (the largest ingredient by weight in this product for professional use).
Voluntary labeling (ingredients not subject to COOL: the 2nd and 3rd largest ingredients by weight in food)
As is the case with mandatory COOL, “Listing of Possible Suppliers”, “All Inclusive” and “Semi-processed Product” labeling can be used under certain conditions.
More details are provided in the Guidelines but we must close this article now due to lack of space. Meanwhile, public comments on this topic are welcomed until April 25, 2017. You might want to take a look at the proposed amendments for public comment as it is believed to be important for both businesses and consumers.