JAPAN – Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) is set to add walnuts to the list of allergens that product manufacturers and importers must include on the label of packaged products containing walnuts.

Currently, CAA strongly recommends including walnuts on the label, but does not require their inclusion. Exports of U.S. walnuts to Japan have grown from 10,604 metric tons to 21,944 metric tons over the last decade.

According to a survey by the CAA, the number of walnut allergy cases in Japan has jumped over tenfold in nine years.

Subsequent to the surge, which is believed to be partly due to an increase in walnut consumption in the country, the agency is planning to add walnuts to the list of food allergens that must be specified on product labels by the end of the fiscal year through March.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) established food allergen labeling standards in 2001 before oversight of the Food Labeling Standard shifted to CAA, a division of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, in 2009.

CAA periodically revises the allergy labeling requirements based on “Reports on Food Labeling Related to Food Allergies Investigation Project,” which it publishes approximately every three years.

This series of longitudinal surveys is a compilation of food allergy case reports.

According to the triennial survey, the number of walnut allergy cases rose from 40 in 2011 to 74 in 2014, 251 in 2017 and 463 in 2020. Severe allergy cases, including anaphylactic reactions, hit 58 in 2020, up drastically from four in 2011.

In the 2020 survey, 13.5% of all food allergy cases were caused by tree nuts, the third largest share after 33.4% caused by eggs and 18.6% by milk. Of the tree nut allergy cases, walnuts accounted for a majority.

The agency reports the amount of walnuts consumed in Japan came to 18,826 tons in 2020, 1.9 times higher than the 9,872 tons in 2011.

In Japan, there are currently seven food items that are required to be labeled as allergens namely eggs, milk, wheat, buckwheat, peanuts, shrimps and crabs.

In addition, there are 21 items, including walnuts, soybeans, bananas and pork, for which allergen labeling is recommended.

If CAA classifies an allergen as a required ingredient, and it is present in a food product, then the product manufacturer or importer must include the name of the individual allergen on the packaging.

However, if a required ingredient is included as part of a processed ingredient within the final product, the label must also include the name of the allergen.

In case walnuts are moved to the mandatory list, it will be the first addition since shrimps and crabs in 2008.

CAA will hold a public comment period prior to making this modification to the Food Labeling Standards, but have not yet announced dates for the comment period.

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