US Barley Health Claim Gaining Ground in Japan

Barley Mission Japan

In an important win for U.S. barley producers, Japan has indicated that in the next year it will allow heart healthy labeling of food products containing high beta-glucan barley. U.S. research findings have documented heart-healthy attributes of high beta-glucan barley -- such as reduced cholesterol and lowering the risk of coronary heart disease -- and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recognized these claims since 2006.

Before this change, Japanese regulators had not permitted labeling about these important properties.Despite that barrier, the U.S. Grains Council has been actively promoting beta-glucan barley in Japan, and the inability to assert the claim on labels has been a major impediment to consumer education. But that is about to change: the good news is that next year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will allow the health claim for beta-glucan U.S. barley to be printed on packaging.

"This change could have an important impact on the development of the food barley market in Japan," said Tommy Hamamoto, USGC director in Japan.

Food barley importers, product development companies and food ingredient companies in Japan are all eagerly awaiting the change in this regulation. Japanese consumers are among the world's most health-conscious and make an excellent audience for information about the value and benefits of U.S. barley as a food ingredient. This labeling could open the door for an increase in food barley consumption.

"We have discovered a lot of interest in the high beta-glucan barley varieties and are learning more about procurement," said Greg Kessel, North Dakota Barley Council vice chairman.

During the next several months, the Council will be working with USGC stakeholders to develop and focus its future barley programs on introducing current and potential importers of U.S. food barley to beta-glucan U.S. barley varieties as well procurement strategies that will allow a steady supply.

So far in the 2013/2014 marketing year that began June 1, through April 10, Japan is leading the world as the top U.S. barley export customer with accumulated exports and outstanding sales of 137,300 metric tons (6.3 million bushels), an increase of more than 200 percent over the same time period last year.