Adding Objectivity to
Food Additives

Aug. 5 2020

There is no denying that words on labels directly influence our view of the food they contain.  Some, such as “Chemical Free”, are becoming more common and sadden me and as a chemist and a little voice wants to shout out ‘name one thing that is not made of chemicals!’.  But I don’t.

Other labelling just amuses me.  Such as in the Delicatessen section at the supermarket where they display of “Low Fat Feta” beside the alternative of ‘Full Cream Feta”.  Such is the psychology of food marketing.

So, in this bent I was interested to see that Japan is removing the requirement to label additive ingredients as “artificial” or “synthetic”, having found that they were deterring some consumers from purchasing the products due to safety concerns associated with these descriptors.  The reality is that the additives are all approved as safe for consumption and may even be nature identical.

Food additives get an unduly bad press and yet they are essential for many technological aspects of modern food. Flavourings, preservatives, emulsifiers, colours and sweeteners all contribute to the safety and aesthetic appeal of modern food.  While there is a good case to avoid the overuse of additives, there are many foods that would disappear from out tables without them.

Removing the words “artificial” and “synthetic” from the label will not remove the declaration of the additive itself from the label, nor change the need or application of them, it just makes the additive presence an objective fact without an unnecessarily emotional descriptor.

The statement from the Japanese Consumer Affairs Agency advises that “Japanese importers bear sole responsibility for complying with Japanese Food Labelling Standards for imported products.”

No date is specified for the commencement of the change but the public comment period for the change ended May 16, 2020.

Linked articles:

Lee Kennedy