- 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.
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:
- these vitamins and minerals are listed in the Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) or with prior written approval of the Director.
- these vitamins and minerals are present in not less than 5 percent of NRV in a serving as quantified on the label.
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 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 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”)
- 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:
- Calcium aids in the development of strong bones and teeth.
- Protein helps build and repair body tissues.
- Iron is a factor in red blood cell formation.
- Vitamin E protects the fat in body tissues from oxidation
- Vitamin D helps the body utilise calcium and phosphorus
- Vitamin B1 is needed for the release of energy from carbohydrate