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Functional foods face regulation challenges in PH

As the Philippines continue to fight malnutrition, functional foods are promoted as healthier alternatives to conventional foods but challenges on its regulations remain.

Functional food is generally defined as a product similar in appearance to conventional food, which contains health benefits to reduce chronic disorders beyond basic nutritional function. Consumption of this food helps in meeting the nutritional needs of individuals and eventually, helps in reducing malnutrition.  Some of these functional foods could be found in the Philippines such as brown rice, soybean spread, and chips and tea made from natural herbs containing vitamins, fiber and anti-oxidants.

In Japan, a regulatory system known as Foods for Specified Health Use (FOSHU) is responsible to approve effectiveness and safety of functional foods through scientific assessment. As displayed on the FOSHU website, FOSHU requires potential functional foods to prove effectiveness on human, use ‘nutritionally appropriate ingredients’, show guarantee of compatibility with product specifications by the time of consumption, establish quality control methods, and most importantly, confirm the absence of safety issues.

Approved functional foods in Japan could claim physiological effects on human body like controlling blood pressure or cholesterol. It could also declare reducing certain disease risk only after getting FOSHU’s approval of its claims.

Director Mario Capanzana of Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), however, raised the lack of regulations to support the production of functional foods in the Philippines, during the 62nd annual convention of the Philippine Association for the Advancement of Science (PHILAAS). 

The Department of Health-Food and Drugs Administration (DOH-FDA) classifies some functional foods as dietary supplement. Foods which serve as supplement must not have therapeutic claims. If functional foods will have specific regulations, food products with deceptive health claims will no longer be displayed on websites or even local markets, as Dr. Capanzana emphasized. 

Though there is still no clear policy on functional foods in the country, Dr. Capanzana affirmed that there is a huge demand for functional foods. Thus, the government and the people must develop specific regulations in producing more functional foods with valid and competitive health claims.