Skip to main content

Japan Moves towards Adoption of Positive Lists for Food-Contact Materials

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) held a meeting on June 22, 2015, to discuss its future regulation of food-contact materials, including the introduction of a new "Positive List" system.

By way of background, MHLW is authorized under the Food Sanitation Act to establish specifications for food containers and packaging, as well as for raw materials used to manufacture such articles. The Ministry has established testing specifications for finished packaging materials, and imposed restrictions on certain substances; however, Japan does not currently have a positive list of substances that may be used in food packaging. For this reason, various trade associations—including the Japan Hygienic Olefin and Styrene Plastics Association (JHOSPA), the Japan Hygienic PVC Association (JHPA), and the Japan Hygienic Association of Vinylidene Chloride (JHAVDC)—have developed voluntary standards for food-contact materials that are widely followed. (For more background information, see the article, The Regulation of Food Packaging Materials in Japan.)

This meeting of the Food Hygiene Subcommittee within MHLW's Pharmaceutical and Food Hygiene Review Committee addressed issues surrounding the development of a Positive List System covering: (1) synthetic resins, (2) paper, (3) rubber, (4) metal, and (5) glass. As synthetic resins are the most widely used materials in Japan, they will be the primary focus of the new Positive List System. Nonetheless, monomers will also be included due to the potential presence of harmful substances. Additionally, while additives are going to be among the principle targets of the Positive List System, MHLW also intends to eventually regulate colorants, adhesives, coatings, and printing inks.

The Positive List System will take into account information on chemical identity, use level, migration level, as well as toxicity. Thus, MHLW will not only compile a list of chemicals that are subject to the voluntary standards established by JHOSPA, JHPA and JHAVDC, but also will collect information on how industry operates in other countries. The need for both upstream and downstream enterprises to verify the safety of both packaging materials and finished articles was also discussed at the MHLW meeting. In particular, information about substances used (e.g., identity, use level, etc.) should be communicated by interested parties with proper consideration given to the protection of trade secret information.