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Marine products in Japan: Providing an assessment of the marine products market. (Japan Insider).

In terms of their importance in the daily diet, marine products are a much more significant source of nutrition in Japan than in the U.S. Data from the annual nutrition survey published in Japanese by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare in 2002 entitled "The National Nutrition Survey in Japan, 2000", detail the current and historical contribution of marine products in meeting the overall dietary needs in Japan, including the share of total calories, protein, fat, calcium and iron, as well as selected vitamins.

Historically fish and shellfish were the primary sources of calcium in the Japanese diet, for example, and while that is still true for older men, the increase in consumption of dairy products for most women and children has changed the balance for those groups. Fish and shellfish consumption remains high, however, in part because of the relatively high prices for beef and pork in Japan, which is unlike the situation in the U.S. where marine products tend to be considerably more expensive. Many Japanese consider sushi (vinegared rice usually including fish or shellfish) and sashimi (raw sliced fish) the original "fast foods," given the convenience of sushi bars and take-out sushi shops.

Popular marine foods in Japan such as surimi processed fish products are outside the scope of this summary, as are the wide range of seaweeds that are consumed in Japan as ingredients in a variety of daily foods as well as health food supplements. The focus instead is on two of the emerging issues of concern impacting the marine products industry, as well as a few of the active areas of scientific research.

Emerging Issues of Concern

Sustainability of Supply. Although the market for marine products is very important in Japan, there are serious concerns about the long term viability of the marine products industry. Perhaps foremost is the stability of marine product supply sources and the sustainability of supply due to over-fishing on a global scale for certain species. Recent press reports here in the U.S. claim that the global populations of large ocean fish such as tuna, for example, have declined 90% over the past 50 years. The mystery of the "overnight" decimation of the Monterey, CA, sardine fishing industry several years ago is still a relevant case study within the Japanese marine products industry.

Wild vs. Farmed. At the same time, the U.S. media has been publishing information about food safety and environmental concerns related to farm-raised alternatives as opposed to wild fish. The use of artificial colors in the feed of certain farmed fish such as salmon is one issue and the use of antibiotic drugs in fish feed is another. While these issues are not yet as serious in Japan, there is a growing awareness of potential problems from both a scientific and public relations perspective.

Science-based Research Activities

Since so many Japanese food companies are heavily committed to the marine products industry, it is not surprising that many of them have chosen to focus their scientific research in the marine products field. Japanese companies have been at the forefront of recent scientific research in several areas, including omega 3s, chitin/chitosan, fish peptides; health food supplements, specialty oils and even deep sea water.

Omega 3 Fish Oils

Although consumption of marine products with healthy omega 3 oils has been consistently high in the average diet in Japan, Japanese companies over 20 years ago recognized the opportunity for fish oil concentrates rich in omega 3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in triglyceride form for use in dietary supplements and in food fortification. There was even a 90% EPA ethyl ester developed as a prescription drug for certain heart conditions. Much of the recent commercial focus in Japan has shifted to DNA-rich fish oil triglycerides, primarily from tuna sources, especially for infant formula and foods geared toward children. The first FOSHU (Food for Specified Health Uses) yogurt flavored "soft drink" with specified amounts of fish oil in triglyceride form (600 mg EPA and 260 mg DHA per serving) from Nippon Suisan was recently approved in Japan with a claim that the product "...contains...EPA and ...DHA, which lower serum neutral fat."

Chitin/Chitosan

These raw materials processed primarily from crab waste and shrimp shells have been researched for many years for a variety of food and nonfood uses. Diverse non-food applications include wastewater treatment and wound healing, for example. Food uses include products with claims for fat absorption and weight loss, particularly for the more soluble chitosan (processed from natural chitin). Chitosan powders and tablets are popular diet products in Japan. One of the approved FOSHU products from Nissin Food Products is an instant cup of noodle soup, which includes chitosan as the functional ingredient with a permitted claim that "...chitosan...has the effect of inhibiting absorption of cholesterol and lowering blood cholesterol".

Fish Peptides

Several FOSHU products with a fish peptide as the functional ingredient have been approved with claims typically that the product is "...suitable for individuals with mild hypertension." One of the early approvals was a Peptide Soup from Nippon Supplement Co., Ltd. with katsuobushi (bonito) oligopeptide as the functional ingredient. Another popular FOSHU functional ingredient is a sardine peptide (valyl tyrosine), also targeted toward blood pressure maintenance.

Health Food Supplements

For a perspective on some of the more traditional applications of marine products in Japan, a review of the health foods "Specification Standards" from the Japan Health Food and Nutritional Food Association is appropriate. Several years ago it was decided that formal standards were needed for the most popular health foods in order to help ensure quality in the Japanese marketplace. The current list of over 40 health foods with Specification Standards includes several marine products:

Processed refined fish oil containing

* Processed carp

* Processed oysters

* Processed Shijimi clams

* Processed green mussels

* Processed snapping turtle, snapping turtle oil

* Chitosan food

Specialty Oils

Beyond the interest in omega 3 fish oils for heart health, there are other marine-based oils, which are actively being researched in Japan. Examples from the public domain include:

* Krill oil for its natural astaxanthin color as a salmonid feed additive

* Deep sea shark liver oil extract for potential anti-cancer properties

* Orange Roughy fish oil as jojoba oil alternative

* Tuna body oil as a less concentrated but less expensive source of DNA

Deep Sea Water

Perhaps the ultimate "marine product," the use of deep sea water with the sodium chloride removed, is the subject of considerable commercial activity in Japan at the present time. Off-label claims are being made for improved health through the consumption of deep sea water, including improvement of the immune function, relief of atopic dermatitis, prevention of certain cataracts, etc. (Japanscan Food Industry Bulletin, January 2003). The health benefits are claimed to be related to the minerals in the sea water and to the purity and quality of the deep sea water sources. It remains to be seen if this is a passing fad with a limited scientific base, or if sufficient efficacy data can be developed to formally support at least some of the claims being made.

The Future Environment for Marine Products

The challenge for Japan (and the rest of the world as well) will be to balance the growing marine products environmental and food safety concerns with the escalating global demand for healthy marine products in the daily diet. The increasingly frequent publication of positive research findings on the health benefits provided by omega 3 rich fish oils, for example, will increase the interest in fish and fish oil consumption. New FOSHU clinical study results with marine product functional ingredients beyond the fish oils, chitosan and peptides will further enhance the health maintenance credibility of marine products. Given the importance of marine products in Japan, both nutritional and commercial, it can be expected that Japanese companies will have the incentive to lead the world's marine products industry in the development of new products and technologies in the future.

Note: Important sources of information for this column were the Japanscan Food Industry Bulletin, the National Institute of Health and Nutrition and the Japan Health Food and Nutrition Food Association.

Ron Bailey is president of California Functional Foods and has been an independent consultant for the past 18 years, focusing primarily on the transfer of food technology between the U.S. and Japan. He can be reached at 165 Almond Street, Ashland, OR 97520; 541-488-3184; Fax: 541-488-3274; E-mail: bailey@mind.net.
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Author:Bailey, Ron
Publication:Nutraceuticals World
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:1408
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