Food production in Asia in the 21st century is no longer just about providing fundamental foods and cheap food to the masses. Across the region – in most countries there has been a growth in the middle classes and consequently a greater amount of money available to spend. At the same time technology is closer to guaranteeing the production of quality healthy foods and the consumer base is educated in recognising healthy and nutritious foods, and what they should be looking for on packaging.
Pre-packed foods, health and nutrition
Western influences have made a huge impact on Asian food preferences and on eastern food production. Attitudes to health and safety in food and livestock have also seen a marked change over the last decades. As fast food and frozen food becomes more and more popular in Asia, so the supply chain must adapt to satisfy demand. As consumers need to see clearly about the ingredients of mass-produced foods on packaging and scientists are constantly researching healthy ingredients there is a growing need for the government to tighten up on regulations and internal policies in order to ensure continuing progress within the Asian foood industry.
Moderating sugar and salt
Sugar and salt content in food and beverages have been a bone of contention for many years. Excess salt for instance can lead to high blood pressure and subsequently a high burden on the heart. This in turn could lead to the possibility of a stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis and even stomach cancer. An excess of sugar in a diet is known only too well to those of us with a sweet tooth – obesity, heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
Governments globally have found that an effective way – though perhaps not a popular way – to encourage reduction in sugar in food production and diet is by creating a sugar tax. For instance, Malaysia implemented a sugar tax in June 2019. Even though sugar taxes are in place in Thailand, it does not seem to have made that much of a difference to consumer behaviour. Experts believe though that as more countries get on board, prices are likely to rise with competition. This is when people are likely to make more informed choices and behaviours will change.
The issues of salt have been approached in the same way. The most likely foods to be taxed are instant foods and savoury snacks. However, in Thailand for instance, only 20% of the population are likely to eat packaged foods which begs the question “Is a salt tax really the answer?” So how excess salt in products is to be moderated still remains a problem overall.
Colour-coding packaging for beverages in Asia
But not every campaign for promoting nutritious food in Asia is about enforcing taxes. Singapore has designed a colour – coded labelling scheme for pre-packaged sugar sweetened beverages. The benefits of this approach is consumers can see at a glance which products are likely to contain large amounts of sugar in order to compare with other brands on sale. However, the FIA (Food Industry Asia) have criticised the system. The FIA feel this approach is unfair to those manufacturers who have already committed to reducing sugar content over a seven-year period. The labelling may cause confusion and the most effective line to healthier food choices is to reduce sugar within the product.
The use of Hemp
Hemp extracts (such as seeds) are becoming more and more popular in the region due to their nutritious value. Even though it can be legally used in Australia, New Zealand, as a Cannabis derivative it still needs robust regulations around production and sale. China and Thailand have recently legalised the use of Hemp in drugs and herbal products and so we are likely to see the development of rules and policies in 2020.
Cell-based meats in the Asian food industry
Cell based meats are a relatively new innovation in the 21st century and research is an on-going process, so regulation and policies need to be regularly updated. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) . aims to enhance food safety by studying the production process as well as researching the food production itself. Overall, the SFA is rolling out a regulatory framework for all new foods on the market.
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