2020 “Food & Wellness Future Forum” Part 2

 August 31, 2020

“Sharing information” is essential for making happy food choices.

We take the current situation seriously, where people do not understand the significance and
safety of food additives.

Nishii: After listening to the first part of the presentation, I realized that food additives are perceived in a more ambiguous way than I initially thought. Food additives are essential for us food manufacturers, but about half the consumers are concerned about them. I was made keenly aware once again that we don’t fully communicate what food additives are used for.

Shimomura: I know many people think that food additives are “essential” for the efficiency and convenience of food manufacturers, but I didn’t say that in that context…?

Nishii: That’s right. For example, tofu is made by solidifying soymilk with “nigari,” but nigari is a food additive. Some foods contain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to increase their nutritional value, but I believe these are also food additives and are used for the benefit of the consumer. Even in ancient Rome, glutamic acid, an ingredient in umami seasoning, was found, so we’ve been incorporating this ingredient into our food for a long time, almost as long as human history.

Ogiso: While many people choose to eat additive-free foods, even in the video of the first part of the interview, not many people seemed to have a clear reason for choosing additive-free foods. I’m in the camp that doesn’t care either way, but it’s easier and avoids hassle for me to say, “I choose additive-free” than, “I don’t care about food additives.” If you say that food additives are safe and that they are not a problem, you might be surprised, or you might be worried that some people might criticize you.

Shimomura: You mentioned that people instinctively avoid dangerous things, but if that’s the case, how do you convey information that it’s safe?

Karaki: I still think some knowledge of science is necessary. We need at least a minimum of understanding about how the systems that keep food safe work. For example, in the case of food additives, you are only allowed to add very small amounts that will have no effect on you even if you eat them every day for the rest of your life, and you should never use carcinogens or substances that accumulate in your body.

Shimomura: If a scientist says food additives are safe and an organization claims food additives are dangerous, and each selects data that are persuasive in their claims, wouldn’t that be an endless parallel line?

Karaki: The risks are invisible these days. As a German philosopher said in a book written at the time of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, chemical substances and radiation are invisible to the eye and cannot be detected by the five senses. You can only know if scientists use specialized equipment to examine them. Because you can’t find out by yourself, if you don’t trust the scientists and the government, you will become worried. It’s the same with food additives; you can’t tell how many additives are contained and how dangerous it is by its taste, smell, or color. So you have to rely on what someone else says. Either you trust the information on the Internet that claims “food additives are dangerous” or you trust the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare or the Food Safety Commissioner who says “food additives are safe.” The solution to this problem is to make sure that the dissemination of information is done in such a way that the disseminator can be trusted.

Food additives used in home healthcare, are also used to reduce salt, sugar, and food poisoning.

Shimomura: As a dietitian, in your daily communication with patients, do you have any examples of your inability to address concerns about food additives?

Nakamura: When we visit patients for home medical care, we are often asked whether food additives are good or bad. Food additives are those that have been approved for safety by the government, and I sometimes show them the website of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. I tell them there is no need to worry about the safety of food additives because the fact that the government has approved their safety means that they are reliable and valid. I try to explain this to them as much as possible so that they can feel at ease. Even so, there are still some people who feel uneasy, so I wish I could increase that understanding a bit more.

Shimomura: Does it work with an explanation such as “The government approves, so there’s no need to worry?” Or, if you’re in a home health care setting, are there any situations where you find yourself saying, “See, you can’t do without food additives, right?”

Nakamura: There are many. First of all, some of the patients I visit have lifestyle-related diseases, so the issue is to reduce salt. Low-sodium meals have relatively poor taste, so we need to find ways to make them better tasting. For diabetic patients, sweeteners can be used instead of sugar to give them a sense of satisfaction. Elderly people are at high risk of becoming seriously ill if they are infected with COVID-19, and the government has instructed them to refrain from shopping. Foods that are not made with preservatives can lose their freshness quickly, and the elderly who consume them while refraining from shopping increase their risk of food poisoning. They can get sick from eating foods that are no longer fresh and can develop problems of so-called low nutrition. It has to be said that food additives play an important role in our diet.

Nishii: The guidelines for serving meals in hospitals and nursing homes also carry over to the “hopefully additive-free.” Those who adhere to this standard have to take the soup stock from kombu and make it as fresh as possible as opposed to using food additives. Because of the fixed food cost per day at the facility, we hear that the food there is served without enough attention to taste. If it doesn’t taste good, the residents won’t eat it, right? This leads to a high rate of leftover food and, as Dr. Nakamura said, low nutrition. If we use umami seasoning in this situation, we can reduce the cost of the food and use that amount for the ingredients to promote delicious, low-sodium food.

The use of food additives is one way for customers to live a rich and healthy life, and we will use them appropriately.

Shimomura: Seven-Eleven seems to have a lot of products that focus on being additive-free, but what do you think about food additives?

Saito: Since 2002, we’ve been promoting our fresh food products as being free of preservatives and synthetic colors, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use food additives. The reality is that most products benefit from food additives. At the time, the reason for the promotion of not using preservatives and synthetic colors was due to media reports that convenience store bento (lunch box) containing food additives were unhealthy. Today, however, the government and consumer groups are discussing whether such non-use labeling could be misinterpreted by consumers, and I think we need to explore how to deal with food additives. I think the wind has changed direction in those discussions. Instead of promoting the non-use of preservatives and synthetic colors, we have announced our intention to improve hygiene management during the manufacturing process. For each product, there are cases where food additives are used, and cases where the problem is solved by using the raw materials and changing manufacturing process. However, I think our challenge is that this is not well understood. When using food additives, we try to use only the minimum necessary amount and type of food additives, and also minimize the use of those food additives that are of greatest concern to our customers. For example, we have been gradually revising our beef-don bento every year to address important environmental issues in recent years, while aiming to deliver a home-made taste. Specifically, we are changing the temperature range from 20 degrees Celsius to a refrigerated range for the lunchboxes that were previously sold at room temperature, and we are introducing new equipment and changing our manufacturing methods to minimize the need for human involvement. As a result, we have been able to avoid the risk of food poisoning and improve the safety of the products themselves. While we have various initiatives, we understand the usefulness of food additives and the psychology of customers who are concerned about food additives, and we try to use them appropriately.

Nishii: I think it’s good to use food additives in different ways depending on how they are delivered to the customer for consumption. I think it’s wonderful that Seven-Eleven has a clear corporate policy and manufactures products in accordance with that policy. On the other hand, it is undeniable that there are some examples of products that may mislead consumers into believing they are good products, such as ones that are simply labeled as being additive-free without any explanation of the evidence, or ones that try to attract consumers by claiming that they do not use “chemical seasonings.” As a professional in the food industry, I believe that this is where the issues lie.

There are three types of anti-food additive groups: “profit-making,” “science-oriented,” and “ideology and principle-based.”

Shimomura: This may be a bit rough, but I thought there were three main types of groups opposed to using anti-food additive. The “profit-making type” incites information to their own benefit. The “science-oriented type” claims that food additives are scientifically unsafe and are selective about the data on which their claims are based. And lastly, the “ideology and principle-based type” prefers what is natural as its own principle. As for the “profit-making type,” we need to be careful not to be influenced by their information and not to fall into the category of “so-called additive-free.” As for the “science-oriented” group, it is important to discuss with both their opponents and proponents while listening to their opinions and comparing the data on which they are based. We should respect the opinions of the “ideology-based” people, but if they demand that the people around them follow their opinions, I think it is important to convey the opposite view that “food additives should be used when necessary.”

Diet and health are topics that are prone to fake news. We need to be creative in our approach to safety.

Ogiso: The health, diet, childcare, and education sectors are areas where fake news is easily created because of the attention to risk. There is always a “distributor,” a “purpose,” and an “interest” behind any information, who is saying it and for what purpose, and who benefits from the information. So we should pay attention to these facts. “Profit-making type” people should have a business perspective. The “ideology and principle-based type” may want to increase their number of friends. And the “science-oriented type” may be hazy about why food additives exist and why they don’t tell us more about their safety. From a food manufacturer’s standpoint, it may be obvious that they wouldn’t bother to use something dangerous, but that’s where I think the need for a full explanation comes in. I think that even people like me, who think “it doesn’t matter either way,” would change their minds if the situation was explained properly.

Nishii: As much as I believe manufacturers have a responsibility to disseminate information, I also believe that we cannot have a conversation without a place to share information, which is why we held this forum. Japan has the strictest safety standards in the world, and we want people to trust the safety of food additives over the last 20 years, but we also understand that some family values have been passed down from generation to generation. That’s why I think it’s important to have more opportunities for dialogue.

Shimomura: In President Nishii’s current remarks, the part where he said, “You can trust me,” doesn’t fully answer the counter-question, such as “What do you mean by that?” This is what Mr.Ogiso is pointing out, isn’t it?

There's no such thing as a food additive to avoid.

Shimomura: We have received questions from the audience. Is there a food additive that we can use and a food additive that we should definitely avoid?

Karaki: All of the food additives are used in very small amounts that will have no effect on the body even if you eat them every day for the rest of your life. Also, no carcinogenic or bioaccumulative substances are used. The additives are also rigorously tested for allergies. So, there is no such thing as a good food additive to use and a bad food additive to avoid. However, it is true that there is an image of such food additives. I think the biggest reason why such an image has been created, is because we have brought in false science to show that the symptoms that occur when very large amounts of food additives are fed to laboratory animals also occur in humans who eat very small amounts. So there are fake scientists calling out the dangers with leaps of logic that are impossible in reality.

Nishii: There is no such thing as a food additive that is not safe. It must be proven safe by scientists and the government before it can be recognized as a food additive. Not only in Japan, but also internationally. The WHO has also determined that some food additives are safe. As professionals, we use food additives in compliance with these standards, but we recognize that there is a huge gap in communication with consumers.

Suzanne: Let me make one last point. This is a question I was going to ask at the beginning of the meeting, but my son loves sausages. Is it true that it’s not good for him to eat it every day?

Karaki: I think German children eat sausages every day. That’s a joke, but there are people who eat natto every day of the year, people who eat yogurt, and so on, who continue to eat the same things every day. But no one has a problem with that. There’s nothing wrong with adding one item, which you want to eat every day to a well-balanced diet. I think sausage is an issue only because of concerns about food additives, but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about because all food additives are strictly regulated by a specialized national agency.
(*Additions were made to the statements of the day.)

Suzanne: I thought it would be a relief if the doctor said that. Thank you.

Shimomura: It is also very important to work together on how to receive information. For example, Ms. Suzanne, if Dr. Karaki answered that it is safe to eat sausages because German children eat them every day, don’t stop there, but try to find a testimonial somewhere that says, “There’s actually a child who ate too many sausages and this happened to him.” If you found such information (I don’t know if it’s true or not), you could tell Dr. Karaki that you had heard such and such a comment, and ask him to explain again. If you were to keep doing this, I’m sure you would be more convinced, knowing to what extent it makes sense and what is questionable.

A rich exchange of information for a rich and happy diet.

Suzanne: I think so. When my children were young, I was sensitive to this issue because I had seen things on the Internet and on TV saying that these products contained preservatives and even carcinogens. Now, what I value in a meal is taste, fun, and color. Choosing what we need depending on the family, while discussing with family members that sometimes we might have a day using food additives and another day additive-free. That makes it more fun to eat at the table.

Karaki: One of the reasons why we receive so much dangerous information nowadays is because of school education. We teach our children that it’s better not to use food additives. That child becomes a parent and teaches that to their child. Therefore, it is very important to give children the right information. We need to change their education in this respect.

Futamura: It is very important to be concerned about food safety and additives. That is why the people who produce food are willing to make an effort. I believe that is how communication works. However, it is not right to worry too much and unnecessarily. I would also like you all to be aware of the Food Safety Basic Act, which was enacted in 2003. I believe that Japan’s system for managing food additives and pesticide residues has changed significantly since the enactment of this law. When this law was made, various consumer groups, including the Co-op, spent about three years collecting 14 million signatures and petitioning the Diet for the law. Based on this law, the Food Safety Commission and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare have established a safety management system. I think it’s unfortunate that this system is not well known and that the image of food additives remains the same as it was in the past. I think it is important for you all to be interested in food additives, to ask questions, do research, and talk to various people. I think the people who are interested in food additives are people who care about what they eat, and I want to respect that feeling for those on both sides of the issue.

Shimomura: If the goal is to have a rich diet, a rich exchange of information must first be the basis. Often, information doesn’t go back and forth and communication is one-way for both parties. We must continue to work towards a rich exchange of information.

Futamura: I believe that the Co-op has a role to play in bridging the gap between producers, such as food manufacturers, and consumers. I think it’s important for consumers to be able to express their concerns and doubts to food manufacturers, and I hope that the Co-op can play a role in bridging this gap.

Saito: At Seven-Eleven, we’re just beginning to discuss how we should word the artificial and synthetic ingredients on the label, and how we should avoid unnecessarily emphasizing the non-use of these ingredients. It’s not possible to make an objective judgment on these issues without communicating with the manufacturers and other concerned parties. That’ s why I participated in today’s meeting in order to review these issues.

The criterion for choosing information is whether or not it makes you “happy.” Four “So-u-ka-na” questions to help you receive information.

Shimomura: Do you have any advice on how to take in information?

Ogiso: We need technology to eliminate lies, mistakes, and falsehoods. But even after we sort that out, there is still a variety of information that remains due to simple differences in tastes and interests. If you don’t know which information to choose, you can choose based on the criterion of “which one will make me happy?” Information literacy is a skill that will ultimately make you happy. Even those who are absolutely additive-free should be able to prioritize their sense of conviction and commitment as long as they are healthy and don’t force their own principles on others. I hate the idea of things being changed by lies and falsehoods more than anything else, so I wish we could share the technology to exclude them with society as a whole. The rest can be decided by what makes you happy.

Shimomura: I’d like to share with you “The Art of Eliminating Lies and Hoaxes,” the “Four Questions to Ask to Keep You Informed” that I teach everywhere, from elementary school textbooks to workshops for senior citizens. “Don’t make snap judgments” [Sokudansuruna], “Don’t swallow hook, line, and sinker” [Unominisuruna], “Don’t be biased” [Katayoruna],” and “Don’t ignore the big picture” [Nakadakemiruna].” When you are exposed to new information, mumble the first letters of these phrases as “So-u-ka-na.” Just by doing this, you will be manipulated less by information. This was the first meeting, but even if it’s hard for Ajinomoto Group, it would be great if the second forum could include those who have negative opinions about food additives in our discussions, so that we can build a bridge between the groups that have different opinions. As I said earlier today, if we are to achieve a rich dietary life, a rich exchange of information is the first step, and I hope this forum will serve as a threshold to achieving this goal.

*Please note that the content may include personal opinions and ambiguous expressions due to the fact that this is a live broadcast.

*Please note that these remarks are a summary. Some short supplementary explanations have been added and the order of the statements has been rearranged to improve the flow of the argument.

The “Food & Wellness Future Forum” was a lively discussion that lasted for two hours and received high marks in a viewer survey, with about 80% of viewers being satisfied with the program.

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