• Proposed new laws on nutrition labelling and claims: what you should know!
 
  • The Ministry of Health Malaysia has proposed new laws to regulate nutrition labelling and the practice of nutrition claims in the country. The proposed amendments to the regulations have been circulated for public comments. These may also be viewed on the website of the Food Quality Control of the Ministry of Health (dph.gov.my). To help the food industries, consumers and other interested parties better understand the proposed new law, the proposal has been re-phrased and presented in an easily understandable style. image_resized The NSM welcomes the effort of the Ministry to introduce mandatory nutrition labelling to a wide variety of foods. At the same time, the proposed law will also state clearly the conditions for making nutrition claims. We will work closely with the Ministry of Health in the explanation of the new laws to all interested parties as well as in the smooth implementation of the law. A series of activities have been planned, including awareness campaigns amongst the community to ensure great benefits may be obtained through nutrition labelling of foods.Please note that the following are my own interpretation of the proposed new laws as they have been sent out for public comments. They are not necessarily the final version of the law that will be gazetted.Dr Tee E Siong President, Nutrition Society of Malaysia and Chairperson, Working Group on Nutrition, Health Claims and Advertisement Part A: Nutrition labelling What is nutrition labelling? Nutrition labelling is a declaration of the level of nutrient or nutrients on the food label. It is to be a factual declaration of the nutritional quality of the food product. What is the purpose or benefit of nutrition labelling to the consumer? Nutrition labelling is aimed at providing a means for conveying information of the nutrient content on the label of a food product, thereby assisting the consumer in the wise choice of food. It is a means of informing the consumer of the nutritional quality of a food product. Nutrition labelling also provides support to nutrition education activities as it encourages the use of sound nutrition principles in the selection of foods and preparation of meals. Is nutrition labelling also beneficial to the food industry? Yes, nutrition labelling is equally important and beneficial to the food industry. Nutrition labelling provides a means for food manufacturers and retailers to emphasize the nutritional properties of their products to the consumer factually. It encourages the food manufacturers to be more aware of the importance of producing nutritious products. Isn’t nutrition labelling already in the present food laws? There are several products in the market with nutrition labels. Under the current food laws, known as the Malaysian Food Regulations 1985, it is not compulsory for food labels to have nutrition labelling. The current Regulations only make it compulsory for some foods to have nutrition labelling. These foods are the “special purpose foods” and include the infant formula and cereal-based foods for infants and young children. In addition, foods that have been enriched or fortified with specific vitamins or minerals must have a declaration of the amounts of these nutrients on the label. Those food products in the market with nutrition labelling are placed by the manufacturers voluntarily. Unfortunately, there is no common format for nutrient declaration. There are also errors in some of these nutrition labels. What about food laws of other countries ? Is it compulsory for nutrition labelling in other countries? In most countries, nutrition labelling is not mandatory (compulsory). Many of these countries are reviewing the need for this. In Singapore, for instance, clear guidelines for nutrition labelling have been proposed, although for the time being, nutrition labelling is still voluntary. In Thailand, nutrition labelling is also not mandatory unless nutrition claims are made for the food product. In the United States of America, however, nutrition labelling is mandatory for almost all processed foods in the market. In Thailand, nutrition labelling is also mandatory for many food products. Are the proposed amendments by the Ministry of Heatlh similar to international guidelines? Yes, the proposed amendments follow closely the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius, a joint FAO/WHO organization. There are, however, several clauses that are necessarily different, to meet our needs and situation. What are the main points in the recently proposed amendment to the Food Regulations related to nutrition labelling? There are two main aspects of the proposed amendment, relevant to this article: (a) proposal for mandatory nutrition labelling for a number of food products; (b) stipulating requirements and conditions for making nutrition claims for food products. Under the proposed new law, what foods must have nutrition labelling? Under the proposed law, nutrition labelling is compulsory for food products as specified in regulation 64 to 75, 84 to 87, 89-99, 113, 135, 136, 149, 151, 161, 220, 233 to 242, 344, 345 and 348 to 358 of the Food Regulations 1985. These include prepared cereal food; various types of bread; variety of milk and powdered milk, including sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and cultured milk; canned meat; canned fish; canned vegetable; canned fruit and various types of fruit juices; salad dressing and mayonnaise; various types of soft drink including botanical drink, soya bean milk and soya bean drink. What is the rationale of selecting these foods for compulsory nutrition labelling? The most important criteria for selecting foods that must have nutrition labelling are: the frequency of consumption of a food product, the amounts consumed, the importance of the food product to the community What nutrients must appear on the label of these selected food products? It is mandatory for four nutrients to be labelled for the above mentioned food items, namely energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat. How should be nutrients be presented ie what is the format for presentation? Information on energy value is to be expressed as kcal (kilocalories) per 100 g or per 100 ml of the food or per package if the package contains only a single portion. In addition, the energy value shall also be given for each serving of the food as quantified on the label. In addition to kcal, energy value may also be expressed as kJ. Information on the amounts of protein, carbohydrate and fat in the food should be expressed in g per 100 g or per 100 ml or per package if the package contains only a single portion. This information should also be given per serving as quantified on the label. For foods prescribed in Regulation 348 to 358 (soft drinks), the amount of total sugars in the food should be give as follows: “Total sugars ……g”. For foods prescribed in Regulation 136 (sugar confections), the labelling required is: “total sugars ……..g”. How is energy content of the food to be calculated? Energy content of the food, expressed as kcal, is to be calculated as follows: grams of fat multiplied by 9 + grams of protein multiplied by 4 + grams of carbohydrate multiplied by 4 + grams of alcohol (if present) multiplied by 7 + grams of organic acids (if present) multiplied by 3 + grams of dietary fibre (if present) multiplied by 2 Besides the 4 nutrients that must be declared on the label, will other nutrients be permitted to be declared on the label? Yes. Besides the 4 nutrients that must be labelled, other nutrients that may be permitted on the label are vitamins and minerals. If yes, what are the conditions permitting these optional nutrients to be declared ? The content of vitamins and minerals may be declared on the label, provided that:
    1. these vitamins and minerals are listed in the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) or with prior written approval of the Director.
    2. these vitamins and minerals are present in not less than 5 percent of NRV in a serving as quantified on the label.
    What is the format for labelling the optional nutrients? The labelling format for vitamins and minerals are the same as for the four main nutrients. They should be expressed in metric units per 100 g or per 100 ml, or per/package if the package contains only a single portion. This information should also be given per serving as quantified on the label. In addition this information may be expressed as a percentage of the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) per 100 g or per 100 ml, or per/package if the package contains only a single portion. Under what conditions are the labelling of these optional nutrients mandatory? Where a food makes a nutrition claim it is mandatory to include a nutrition labelling and the amount of any other nutrient for which a nutrition claim is made in respect of the food. Refer to nutrition claims later in this article. Besides vitamins and minerals, what other nutrients or components may be labelled? The content of dietary fibre, fatty acids and cholesterol are the other optional nutrients that may be labelled. Under what conditions are the labelling of fatty acids mandatory? Where a claim is made regarding the amount and/or type of fatty acids, the amounts of the different types of fatty acids present in the food must be labelled. That is, the amounts of saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and transfatty acid should be declared in the following format: Fat ….. g of which monounsatured ….. g of which polyunsaturated ….. g saturated ….. g and trans fatty acid ….. g How should the labelling of cholesterol and dietary fibre level be made? The amount of cholesterol should be expressed in mg per 100 g or per 100ml or per packaged if the package contains only a single portion. Dietary fibre should be expressed in g per 100 g or per 100n ml or per package if the package contains only a single portion. In addition this information should be given per serving as quantified on the label Can the amounts of nutrients be expressed as a percentage of recommended daily intake (RDI or RDA)? The amounts of nutrients are not to be expressed as a percentage of recommended daily intake (RDI or RDA). The proposed regulations will adopt what Codex is recommending, namely to express the amounts of nutrients as a percentage of the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV). Why express amounts of nutrients as NRV rather than as % of RDI or RDA? RDIs or RDAs differ from country to country. Expressing percentage of nutrients against RDIs or RDAs can thus be a problem for food manufacturers as they will have to change the values for different countries. Thus, Codex has proposed using NRV, which is to be a set of figures to be used worldwide. How different are NRVs from RDIs or RDAs? Not very different really. See accompanying Table. Nutrient Reference Values (NRV) and the Malaysian Recommended Intakes (RDA)
    NRV RDA*
    Vitamin A (ug) 800 750
    Vitamin D (ug) 53 NA
    Vitamin C (mg) 60 30
    Thiamin (mg) 1.4 1.0
    Riboflavin (mg) 1.6 1.5
    Niacin (mg) 18 16.7
    Vitamin B6 (mg) 2 NA
    Folic acid (ug) 200 200
    Vitamin B12 (ug) 1 NA
    Calcium (mg) 800 450
    Magnesium (mg) 300 NA
    Iron (mg) 14 9
    Zinc (mg) 15 NA
    Iodine (ug) 150 NA
    Part B: Nutrition Claims Are there specific provisions for nutrition claims under the existing food regulations? No. Like the situation in many countries, there are no specific provisions for nutrition claims. The closest to some provisions for nutrient declaration is regulation 11(1)(h) which states: where a claim is made as to the presence in that food of any vitamin, mineral, essential amino acid or essential fatty acid, a statement setting out the quantity of each of such vitamin, mineral, essential amino acid or essential fatty acid present in a stated quantity of the food. Under this regulation, there appears to be no minimum level for a nutrient to be present before a food can claim presence of that nutrient. A food with even very small amounts of a nutrient can claim “presence of” that nutrient. With the proposal of the new regulations on nutrient content claim, the proposal of MOH is to delete regulation 11(1)(h). Why propose specific laws for nutrition claims? In the absence of specific provisions for nutrition claims, it is not clear to the industry and the consumer what are the permitted claims. As a result, some companies have proceeded to make certain claims, including health claims. For instance, it is not clear under the present regulations what is the minimum level for a nutrient to be present before a claim for “rich in” or “source of” can be made. This “free for all” situation can lead to abuse and confusion amongst consumers. The proposed law will spell out clearly what the permitted claims are. What are the permitted types of nutrition claims? Nutrient content claim Nutrition comparative claim Nutrient function claim What is “nutrient content claim”? A nutrient content claim is a claim that describes the level of a nutrient contained in a food. There are specific conditions which must be met before a nutrient content claim can be made. There are basically two types of content claims. The first type allows a food to claim that it is “low in” or “free” of certain nutrients or food component. The conditions for these are specified in Table I. These nutrients or components are those that are supposedly bad for health, when consumed in excessive amounts. The second type of claims allows for a food to claim that it is a “source of” or “high in” certain nutrients. Again, there are specific conditions to be met and these are given in Table II. These nutrients are those that are supposedly beneficial to health. What are some examples of nutrient content claims? Table I lists the conditions for making claims that foods are low or free of certain nutrients, For example, to make a claim that a food is “low cholesterol”, it should not contain more than 0.02 g of cholesterol per 100 g of the food, if it is a solid food. If it is a liquid food, it should not contain more than 0.01 g cholesterol per 100 ml of the food. To make a claim that a food is “cholesterol free”, it should not contain more than 0.005 g cholesterol per 100 g (if it is a solid) or not more than 0.005 g cholesterol per 100 ml (if it is a liquid) Table II lists the conditions for making claims that foods are a source of or high in certain nutrients. For example, to make a claim that a food is “a source of” vitamin C, the amount in 100 g of the food must be at least 15% of the NRV or 9 mg (if the NRV is 60 mg, 15% is 9 mg). For a food to claim that it is “high in” vitamin C, it must contain at least two times the value for source, or 2 x 9, ie 18 mg per 100 g of the food. Table I
    COMPONENT CLAIM CONDITIONS
    A. NOT MORE THAN
    Energy Low 40 kcal (170 kJ) per 100 g (solids) or20 kcal (80 kJ) per 100 ml (liquids)
    Free 4 kcal per 100 ml (liquids)
    Fat Low 3g per 100 g (solids)1.5 g per 100 ml (liquids)
    Free 0.15 g per 100g (or ml)
    Saturated Fat Low 1.5 g per 100 g (solids)0.75 g per 100 ml (liquids)and 10% of energy
    Free 0.1 g per 100 g (solids)0.1 g per 100 ml (liquids)
    Cholesterol Low 0.02 g per 100 g (solids)0.01 g per 100 ml (liquids)
    Free 0.005 g per 100 g (solids)0.005 g per 100 ml (liquids)
    Trans Fatty Acid Low 1.5 g per 100 g (solids)0.75 g per 100 ml (liquid)and 10% of energy
    Free 0.1 g per 100 g (solids)0.1 g per 100 ml (liquids)
    Sugars Free 0.5 g per 100 g (or ml)
    Sodium Low 0.12 g per 100 g
    Very Low 0.04 g per 100 g
    Free 0.005 g per 100 g
    Table II
    COMPONENT CLAIM CONDITIONS
    B. NOT LESS THAN
    Protein Source 10% of NRV per 100 g (solids)5% of NRV per 100 ml (liquids)or 5% of NRV per 100 kcal
    High(at least 2 times the values for “source”)
    Vitamins and Minerals Source 15% of NRV per 100 g (solids)7.5% of NRV per 100 ml (liquids)or 5% of NRV per 100 kcal
    High (at least 2 times the values for “source”)
    When a food is by its nature low in or free of a nutrient, can nutrient content claims be made? Where a food is by its nature low in or free of a nutrient, the term describing the level of the nutrient should not immediately precede the name of the food but should be in the form ” a low (naming the nutrient) food” or “a (naming the nutrient) – free food”. For example, a bread which is by its nature low in cholesterol, may not claim that it is “a low cholesterol bread” or a “cholesterol free bread”. Instead, it may be said to be “a low cholesterol food” or “a cholesterol-free food”. What is a “comparative claim”? A comparative claim is a claim that compares the nutrient levels and/or energy value of two or more foods. Under this claims, a food may bear a statement in the label that compares the level of a nutrient in the food with the level of a nutrient in a reference food in the following forms or any other words of the same significance – “reduced sodium”, “less than”, “fewer”, “increased”, “more than”, light”, extra”. What are some examples of comparative claim? For example, if a new food formulation has lower or reduced sodium compared with the previous formulation, the label of the new formulation may claim to have “reduced sodium”. If a new food formulation has increased or extra iron compared with the previous formulation of the same food, the label of the new formulation may claim to have “extra iron”. What are the conditions for making comparative claims?
  • The food being compared should be different versions of the same food or similar foods. The foods being compared should be clearly identified;
  • A statement of the amount of difference in the energy value or nutrient content should be given. The following information should appear in close proximity to the comparative claim :
    • The amount of difference related to the same quantity, expressed as a percentage, fraction, or an absolute amount. Full details of the comparison should be given.
    • The dentity of the food(s) to which the food is being compared. The food(s) should be described in such a manner that it (they) can be readily identified by consumers; and
  • The comparison should be based on a relative difference of at least 25% in the energy value or nutrient content, except for micronutrients where a 10% difference in the NRV would be acceptable, between the compared foods and a minimum absolute difference in the energy value or nutrient content equivalent to the figure defined as “low” or as a “source” in the Table I and II; and
  • The use of the word “light’ should follow the same criteria as for “reduced” and include an indication of the characteristics which make the food “light”.
  • What is a “nutrient function claim”?A nutrient function claims is a nutrition claim that describes the physiological role of the nutrient in growth, development and normal functions of the body.What are the permitted nutrient function claims ?The permitted nutrient function claims are as follows:
    1. Calcium aids in the development of strong bones and teeth.
    2. Protein helps build and repair body tissues.
    3. Iron is a factor in red blood cell formation.
    4. Vitamin E protects the fat in body tissues from oxidation
    5. Vitamin D helps the body utilise calcium and phosphorus
    6. Vitamin B1 is needed for the release of energy from carbohydrate