The IADSA Asian conference on food supplement regulations held in Bangkok, Thailand last week produced a clear recognition of the need for a common approach to regulations in the region and a demand for increased collaboration and consultation, reported the International Association of Dietary Supplements Associations (IADSA) this week.
The conference, which brought together 340 representatives of Asian governments with members of the global supplements industry, met to consider the needs and issues that affect the creation of a practical regulatory and marketing framework for the region. The demand in Asia for dietary supplements is estimated to be worth $15 billion (€15.2 bn), equal to Europe ($15 billion) and almost to North America ($16.3 billion), according to the IADSA.
It was made clear by speaker after speaker that food supplements must be an essential part of a nation's diet in the years ahead if the world is to manage nutritional needs of undernourished populations and the economics of health care of longer living populations, said the organisation.
Dr Biplap Nandi of the Asian office of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) opened the conference by saying that "dietary supplements play a key role in the overall well-being of the population at large, particularly those of developing countries".
A new report, "Nutrition in Transition", produced and presented by Professor David Richardson, specialist adviser in nutrition and food science, claimed that "the burden of disease is shifting towards diet-related chronic diseases" and that "it is critical for countries to focus on a full understanding of these shifts, their causes and ways to address them".
Shunichi Ozawa, executive vice-president of Japan's National Nutritional Foods Association, put the issue of caring for an ageing population into an economic context with his projection that within a few years Japan will not be able to fund healthcare with its current national budget. He said that the only choice is to maintain the population's health for longer.
Participants from almost every country in Asia heard how current regulations in the region are often inappropriately restrictive and many are not being enforced. Many Asian nations are now seeking to establish or improve their own regulations, often without sufficient reference to the approaches being adopted by neighbouring countries or to the often-painful lessons and experiences of other regions of the world, said the IADSA.
It added that the first Asian regional conference opened many eyes and stimulated demands for national conferences that would help direct future national frameworks based on sound science and fair claims, product quality and safety, and the widest freedom of choice.
The key issue of ingredient regulation poses the difficult question of creating a demarcation line of their usage in food supplements and herbal medicines. Few other regions of the world have yet solved the problem satisfactorily but in Asia, the sensitivity is greater than most because of the culture and traditional use of natural medicines, noted the IADSA.
Korea's recent solution has been a specific category which demands guarantees on product safety, quality and fair claims. Dr Jae-Hong Kim, deputy director of the Food and Drug Division of the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, predicted that the new law would increase the market four-fold from $1 billion to $4 billion within five years, to the benefit of consumers, industry and government.
In support of this discussion, Dr Vishwa Singh of Human Nutrition Research in Roche Vitamins and Dr Ikhlas Khan at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi spoke on the science of ingredients and the importance of permitting a wide choice to enable innovative developments.
The debate by the panel of regulatory experts from nine of the Asian countries concluded that there was clearly a need for a common approach to regulations across the region and that Codex Alimentarius may be the best route to a final agreement. However, much needs to be done in between to facilitate the exchange of information, discussion and the establishment of common ground.
"IADSA has provided the springboard for this exchange and will continue to work with the national bodies to inform the discussions and facilitate the decisions," said Randy Dennin, IADSA chairman. "It is not an easy task but is achievable."
The two-day conference was organised in partnership with Thailand's HFSA (Health Food and Supplements Association) and conducted in four languages. It was the second regional event organised by IADSA which represents 35 national trade associations and over 8,500 member companies. Last year the African nations met in Cape Town and next year will see a Latin American meeting in October in Rio de Janeiro.