Section 5. Securing Safety of Food and Measures against Chemical Substances
1. Promoting Food Sanitation Measures for the 21st Century
(1) How to promote food sanitation administration in the future
Today, we are faced with the diversification of problems concerning the safety of foods, a significant increase in the amount of imported foods, changes in conditions of nutrition intake, and so forth. "How to Promote Food Sanitation Administration in Future" was established in June 1998 as a guideline for appropriate coping with such new problems concerning foods, in consideration of opinion offered widely by the general public. The five basic themes of the report are 1 new health crisis management and measures against food poisoning, 2 measures to assure safety of newly developed foods, imported foods, etc., 3 sanitary management and division of roles covering respective stages from production to the table, 4 information disclosure, and 5 international cooperation and contribution. The report also proposes, as emergent tasks, to establish a system of analyses and evaluation of long-term effects upon health, to conduct researches/studies on chemicals contained in foods, and to revise the systems of labeling.
(2) Assuring the safety of foods
- 1 Strengthening of measures against food poisoning
- As part of measures against food poisoning, efforts are being made for thorough sanitary management at cooking facilities and for enhancing supervision and instructions given to food-related business operators based upon the results of researches to clarify the causes of food poisoning. Efforts for the diffusion of knowledge upon preventive measures against food poisoning are also being promoted, including the preparation and distribution of handbooks for homes for the prevention of food poisoning.
- As for salmonella that has caused an increasing number of food poisoning cases and small round-shaped viruses that have triggered many food poisoning cases in winter, respective measures have been taken against them. For example, labeling and quality standards for eggs were set in November 1998, including the labeling of quality guarantee date, etc. upon eggs to be eaten in raw and the requirement of heating sterilization of foods using eggs. Also, standards for oysters to be eaten in raw were set in December of the same year, which concern the labeling of picking sea areas. These standards are to be implemented in and after winter of 1999.
- 2 Measures to cope with increased amount of imported foods
- The number of food imports has increased by about 2.1 times in the last ten years and it is about 1.18 million in 1997. The Japanese dependence upon other nations in food supply in terms of calorie value is up to 59% according to an estimate for the same fiscal year. As for assuring the safety of imported foods, continued efforts will be made for improving the surveillance and check systems as well as for systematic raising of the execution rate of monitoring checks. Through more substantial monitoring and obligatory checks, the Ministry of Health and Welfare intends to assure the safety of imported foods effectively and efficiently.
- 3 Diffusion of comprehensive sanitation controlled manufacturing process
- The Ministry of Health and Welfare is introducing the "hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) system", which is being introduced into many other countries as a new food safety control system. Thus, the Ministry aims to an advance sanitary management at respective stages including the production and processing of foods.
- The approval system for comprehensive sanitary controlled manufacturing process that based on the HACCP system is provided for by the Food Sanitation Law. The types of foods to be covered by the system are being expanded gradually. By the end of April 1999, 658 cases of milk and milk products, 141 cases of meat products, 13 cases of fish paste products, and two cases of the food, which is packed and hermetically sealed and then heat-sterilized under pressure were approved under this system.
- In addition, a "Temporary Law on the Advancement of Management of Production Process of Foods" was enforced in July 1998, to support the upgrading of facilities of food producers and processors trying to sophisticate the management of production process based upon the idea of HACCP system.
- 4 Standards regarding residual agrochemicals and drugs for animals, based on the latest scientific knowledge
- In compliance with the Food Sanitation Law, by the end of April 1999, the Food Sanitation Investigation Council under the Ministry of Health and Welfare had set pesticide-residue standards for 179 pesticides on individual agricultural products and for 11 types of drugs for animals residual in live-stock and marine products. The council first calculates for each item the acceptable daily intake (ADI), or the amount per day that can be taken without adversely affecting human health even if the person continues to take the item as long as he or she lives. The calculation is based upon safety-assessment data and the latest scientific information. Then, referring to international standards, the council sets standards so that the amount of chemicals taken in under Japanese normal eating habits will not exceed the ADI.
(3) Developing food and health administration system capable of coping with the diversification of foods
- 1 Labeling on foods
- Some experts have pointed out that appropriate labeling has not been performed, despite drastic changes in production and distribution forms in the food sector. Others, however, argue that such labeling should be left to spontaneous efforts as far as possible, for the sake of deregulation. In the meantime, achieving international conformity in standards is also an important requirement. The Special Subcommittee on Labeling of the Food Sanitation Investigation Council is discussing the appropriate ways of providing information necessary for food sanitation through labeling. The report of March 1999 stated that it was necessary to impose a mandate of labeling of materials for preventing health damages caused by allergic substance, etc., consider the introduction of a new information offering system on foods to add to labeling, and so on. The report also suggested that further discussions should be necessary regarding the labeling on foods derived from recombinant DNA techniques.
- 2 Confirming the safety of foods applying recombinant DNA technology
- Biological efforts to develop new types of agricultural products by incorporating new genes and giving them particular useful characteristics are promoted in the food sector, aiming to improve food productivity and quality, preserve global environment, and so forth. The recombinant DNA technology is a sophisticated, state-of-the-art technology that has only a short history of application in the food sector. In light of this, the Ministry of Health and Welfare is striving to secure the safety of foods applying the technology by preparing and presenting safety-assessment guidelines for such foods, based upon its original studies and reports by international organizations. By December 1998, it had been confirmed that safety assessment conducted by producers for 22 types of foods (soybeans that are not affected by herbicides, preservative tomatoes, etc.) and six types of food additives (kimocine, etc.) satisfied the safety-assessment guidelines, as the result of the scientific deliberations by the experts in the Food Sanitation Investigation Council. The safety of such foods has been confirmed to a similar degree to that of traditional foods. Some of the consumers, however, are still concerned about their safety. In light of this, details of deliberations at the Food Sanitation Investigation Council and application documents concerning safety assessment have been disclosed to the public to provide information on safety assessment of such foods.
- 3 Consideration of handling of so-called supplements
- Increasing requests have been made for allowing the distribution of vitamins, etc. as foods, which have been used for medical purposes. This reflects increased people's interest in health, improved knowledge, information accumulated through eating experience, and so on. In light of this, regulations upon such substances have been revised one by one. In the meantime, so-called supplements are being traded, which are taken mainly for supplying nutrients. In light of this, discussions have started concerning the names, definitions, and forms of labeling on such foods in order that people can appropriately take such foods.
2. Efforts for Measures against Chemicals
(1) Comprehensive measures against dioxins
People are getting increasingly worried about effects of dioxins that are discharged from waste incinerators, etc. upon their health, making it necessary for the whole government to strive for the solution of the problem. Under such circumstances, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has introduced measures to reduce emission from waste disposal facilities, while endeavoring for clarifying dioxins' effects upon human health.
As for measures against discharge sources, efforts are being made for early reduction of dioxins through regulatory measures under Waste Management and Public Cleansing Law and financial support, low-interest loans, etc. offered to waste disposal facilities. At the same time, studies are being promoted for the elucidation of discharge mechanism, discharge reduction technology, and measures for landfill sites. Also, efforts for the elucidation of health effects are under way, including the investigation of the food contamination and effects upon human health (including effects of breast's milk upon babies and infants).
Actualities of dioxin contamination of foods have been investigated for each type of food since fiscal 1992. To add to this, researches for the daily intake of dioxins taken through total diet study base on national nutrition survey have been executed since fiscal 1996. According to the research conducted in fiscal 1997, the daily volume of dioxins taken through popular meals was 2.41pg (a picogram is one-trillionth of a gram) per 1 kg of body weight. (2.41 pg is the total toxic equivalents value for 12 types of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin (PCDD), 15 types of polychlorinated dibenzofuran (PCDF), and three types of coplanar polychlorinated biphenyl (Co-PCB) that is similar to dioxins.)
The density of dioxins in mother's milk has been surveyed since fiscal 1994. In fiscal 1998, the coverage was expanded to 21 prefectures. In the meantime, a research upon mother's milk that had been preserved by the Osaka Prefectural Government since 1973 showed that the dioxin density lowered as time passed by. The dioxin density in 1996 was about half the density in 1973. Furthermore, in fiscal 1998, a research was conducted upon possibility of mother's milk influencing the health and growth of babies and infants, including the immunity and thyroid functions.
The Study Group under the Ministry of Health and Welfare set the tolerable daily intake (TDI = the amount per day per 1 kg of body weight that a person can take in throughout his or her life without any damages to health) at 10 picograms in 1996. In May of 1998, an expert meeting of WHO reevaluated dioxins' influence upon health. In response to this, the Ministry of Health and Welfare organized the "Special Subcommittee to Assess Dioxin's Influence upon Health" as a special subcommittee of the Living Environment Council and the Food Sanitation Investigation Council. The special subcommittee is discussing dioxins' influence upon health, considering the revision of TDI, in cooperation with the Subcommittee on Risk Management of Dioxins, Environment and Health Group of the Central Environment Council under the Environment Agency.
Furthermore, in February 1999, the Ministerial Conference on Measures Against Dioxins was organized to secure close mutual communications among related administrative organizations concerning measures to prevent dioxins damages upon environment and people's health and promote such measures effectively and comprehensively. The conference presented basic guidelines for promoting measures against dioxins in March. It has been agreed that all staff members of the government will unite their efforts for promoting effective and comprehensive measures in accordance with the guidelines.
(2) Measures against endocrine-disrupting chemicals
It has been pointed out that particular types of chemicals affect endocrine functions (hormone functions), which is called "problems of endocrine-disrupting chemicals". These problems have many aspects that have not been scientifically elucidated, making it necessary for the Ministry of Health and Welfare to give precise scientific assessment at that point of time and consider measures to be taken in the future. In response, the ministry organized a discussion meeting of experts in April 1998.
The expert committee have discussed about the influence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals upon people's health, and published an interim report in November 1998. Based upon this report, the Ministry of Health and Welfare intends to strive for international cooperation and further promotion of researches and studies.
(3) Measures against indoor air environmental contamination chemicals
In the last few years, increasing attention has been paid to the influence of chemicals discharged by household products, building materials, etc. into the indoor air upon health. In light of this, a guideline value of indoor density was set for formaldehyde in June 1997. As for other volatile organic compounds, nationwide researches, etc. on actualities of contamination of indoor air have been executed since fiscal 1997, with the cooperation of the National Drug and Food Sanitation Laboratory and the sanitation laboratories in some of the municipal governments.
In the future, safety measures will be promoted based upon these research results, through assessment of influence upon health, the setting of guideline values of indoor densities, and so on.
(4) International efforts for the solution of chemicals problems
- 1 Efforts by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), etc.
- As for measures concerning chemicals, the OECD is promoting safety checks for chemicals massively produced in respective nations and trying to secure conformity between classification and labeling of chemicals. In the meantime, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) addresses the problem of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The first intergovernmental negotiation committee for the ratification of a treaty was held in June 1998. Negotiations are under way for the preparation of a treaty in 2000. The Ministry of Health and Welfare plans to participate actively in these efforts referring to its accumulated knowledge upon chemicals.
- 2 Efforts by the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemicals Safety (IFCS)
- The Intergovernmental Forum on Chemicals Safety (IFCS) was founded in 1994 to promote safety measures for chemicals internationally and efficiently based upon the Agenda 21 adopted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in June 1992. The 3rd Intersessional Group Meeting of IFCS (ISG3) was held in Yokohama from December 1 to 4 of 1998, sponsored by the Japanese government (the Ministry of Health and Welfare). The meeting worked on agenda items including "International Risk Assessment of Chemicals". The targets to be achieved through cooperation among respective nations by 2000 were reconfirmed as a result of discussions at the meeting.