Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Delivered at the

Regional Expert Consultation of the Asia-Pacific Network for Food And Nutrition
on Functional Foods and their Implications in the Daily Diet

Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand
16 – 19 November 2004

Distinguished participants,
Colleagues from WHO, AIT and FAO
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is indeed a pleasure for me to address this important regional expert consultation of the Asia Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition on Functional Foods and their Implications in the Daily Diet. On behalf of FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf and on my own behalf, I welcome all of you to this meeting, the first meeting on functional foods that the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has organized.

There have been major changes in the nutrition problems facing communities in the Asia- Pacific region. Although the region is still facing serious issues related to food security and safety, significant proportions of the people of the region are plagued by diet-related chronic diseases. Diseases such as obesity, diabetes, coronary heart diseases, hypertension and certain cancers have been recognized as the main causes of premature death and disability in industrialized countries and in most developing countries. Developing countries are demonstrably increasingly at risk, as are the poorer populations of industrialized countries.

Research and development over the years have shown that in addition to nutrients, there are various other components in foods that may be beneficial to health. These bioactive or functional ingredients are believed to be able to serve physiological roles beyond provisions of simple nutrient requirements, for example ability to promote general well being or even reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Foods containing such functional ingredients are termed ‘functional foods’. These foods are similar in appearance to conventional foods and are intended to be consumed as part of a normal diet.

In Asia, functional foods have been regarded as an integral part of some cultures for many years although the term ‘functional foods’ was not formally used. Among the Japanese and Chinese, for instance, it is believed that foods and medicine are of equal importance in preventing and treating diseases. They indeed originate from the same source, are based on the same basic theories and have the same uses. Even though there has so far not been an accepted definition for functional foods, I am told that functional foods contain nutrients and/or other substances that confer a physiological benefit over and above basic nutritional properties and possess functional benefits that can be scientifically proven.

There has been a great deal of interest on functional foods across the globe, especially in the areas of research and development, regulatory discussions and on trade and marketing of functional foods. There has also been a great deal of scientific debates and discussions through numerous seminars and conferences. Unfortunately, there are still many uncertainties surrounding these products and no regulatory system in the world uses the term “functional food”.

Recognizing the need for an enhanced coordinated approach to the global development of functional foods, the FAO/WHO Regional Coordinating Committee for Asia (CCAsia), at its 13th session in Kuala Lumpur in September 2002, first commenced discussions on this subject. The Coordinating Committee recommended that FAO and WHO organize an expert consultation to discuss various aspects of functional foods. Following on that initial development, at the recently concluded 14th session of CCAsia meeting in South Korea, a pre-Codex workshop on functional foods was organized. A wide variety of topics were discussed, including safety evaluation, scientific substantiation as well as consumer perceptions, concerns, and behaviours.

Ladies and gentlemen,

FAO considers it important to initiate discussions and to stimulate improved common understanding on the subject of function foods amongst nutritionists, in view of the potential impact on the nutritional status and health of the population. Participants to the present consultation are expected to deliberate on several specific areas of concern and interest, including attributes of functional foods, substantiation of functional and health claims, and potential for health promotion.

I am glad to note that the focus of the consultation shall be on the implications of functional foods on the daily dietary patterns and eventually on the nutritional wellbeing of the community. Such emphasis is in line with the goal of FAO to achieving food security for all, i.e. to ensure that all people have regular access to sufficient high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. FAO is mindful of the recommendations and declarations of various UN Conferences after the 1990s, especially the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN) in 1992, the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996 and the WFS: five years later in 2002. We will work closely with member nations and development partners in realizing these recommendations and goals in order to flight hunger and raise the levels of nutrition of the people.

The consultation is in line with FAO’s role in promoting food and nutrition security, for example work in the area of food-based dietary guidelines, recommended nutrient intakes, nutrition education and promotion and nutritional deficiencies. More recently, working in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), FAO conducted an expert consultation on Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases in 2002. The recommendations of that consultation have been published as a WHO monograph. This last consultation pointed out that developing countries are not spared these diseases. In communities, districts and countries where widespread, integrated interventions have been implemented, dramatic decreases in risk factors have occurred. The meeting emphasized the need, on a continuing basis, to develop strategies to change people’s behaviour towards adopting healthy diets and lifestyles, including research on the supply and demand side related to evolving consumer behaviour.

Finally, FAO greatly values your views and experiences on the subject. I am convinced that the outcome of your consultation will result in a better understanding of the status of functional foods, in general as well as in Asia in particular. I am looking forward to receiving your recommendations on specific areas of common interest and concern including a proposed future course of action. Through the Asia Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition we can continue to work together on the subject of functional foods. In addition, we look forward to your continued support and collaboration in many other areas of food and nutrition.

I wish you fruitful deliberations and a pleasant stay in Thailand.

Thank you.