Econa Troubles: Why Japan Needs Precautionary Principle

Over at Consumers Union of Japan, we discuss Econa and the health label troubles that are big news this month. Food oils should be left unprocessed (that's why I like Extra Virgin Olive Oil that hasn't been rushed through a factory, just slowly extracted to avoid the heating up of the oil as it is pressed from the seeds). What Kao Corp seems to have done is to rush the palm seed oil processing, with harmful chemicals emerging, that they were not aware of.

Kao Corp had to admit that there were up to 100 times higher levels of impurities (possible carcinogens). The government was slow to act, as Japan does not use the Precautionary Principle in its food law.

The government finally announced on October 8, 2009 that they would start procedures to cancel the health label authorization for Kao’s Econa series, according to Kyodo News. Kao Corp says they will make every effort to lower the levels of glycidol, and is anticipating to put Econa on the market again in February 2010. The government has no legal way to stop them from doing that, as the deliberation in the expert committee of the Food Safety Commission may take several years before reaching any conclusion about the risks. Changing the food legislation to be based on the Precautionary Principle is the only way to make sure that this type of scandal does not happen again.

When I previously wrote about Kao Corp's Econa troubles, I noted that "it is time for a review of the policies that called FOSHU healthy back 5-10 years ago. While many of us were exploring organic foods, with as little processing as possible, and no food additives, the large companies introduced FOSHU with a lot of fanfare."

The Precautionary Principle changes the burden of proof so that it is the manufacturer of a novel product that has to show that it is safe, rather than others. In the case of Econa, it was just impossible for Japan's Food Safety Commission to order the animal testing, and do the proper evaluation, and get all the experts to agree. Finally, Kao Corp announced that they would “temporarily” stop sales of its best-selling Econa food oil products, called Enova in North America.

Talk about trying to lock the stable door after the horse has bolted...

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