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The Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition (ANFN) of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific held its Regional Expert Consultation on Functional Foods and their Implications in the Daily Diet from 16 to 19 November 2004 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Consultation was attended by 21 experts from ten member countries, namely: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. An expert from the Asian Institute of Technology and a resource person from Malaysia participated as special invitees. The list of the participants is given in Appendix 1.


Biplab K. Nandi, FAO Senior Food and Nutrition Officer and Secretary, ANFN welcomed the participants, observers and guests. He gave a brief background of the Asia-Pacific Network for Food and Nutrition and explained the rationale for focusing on functional foods and its implications in the daily diet in this Consultation. He said that functional foods were not new to the region, although the term might not be formally used. He gave some examples of common food items consumed by the community which are now known to contain various functional ingredients with specific physiological effects. Many fruits and vegetables, for example, contain a variety of carotenoids which are said to have antioxidant properties. Flavonoids in tea have also been studied for their antioxidant properties. Studies have also been conducted to investigate the potential anti-carcinogenic properties of several phytochemicals in soya bean. A list of some commonly consumed foods having potential functional properties is given in Appendix II. He emphasized the importance of scientific substantiation of the purported beneficial effects. This was followed by a brief introduction of all the participants, resource person, observers and guests.


Rukhsana Haider, Regional Adviser, Nutrition, WHO South-East Asia Regional Office (SEARO), conveyed the greetings of the Regional Director, Samlee Plianbangchang, and thanked the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific for inviting her to participate in this consultation. She remarked that the term "functional foods" is not well understood, and its usage varies greatly among countries. With expanding and aggressive food industries, and increasing public interest in such products, Ms Haider felt that it was time for the region to have an agreed technical definition for functional foods. She emphasized that appropriate methodologies will be required for the scientific substantiation of health claims and that there is a need to establish an appropriate regulatory mechanism to ensure safety and efficacy of these products. Such developments would be beneficial for the industry as well as for instilling greater consumer confidence in these products. Ms Haider said WHO looked forward to the deliberations of this consultation, and would continue to work with partner agencies and member countries for improving the health and nutritional status of the people in the Region. The full text of Rukhsana Haider’s address is given in Appendix III.

Opening of the Consultation


On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, the Assistant Director-General and the Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, He Changchui welcomed participants to the Consultation. He expressed appreciation to the ANFN Secretariat for making all the necessary preparations to enable the Consultation to be conducted. He noted that this meeting on functional foods was the first that the regional office had organized on the subject.


Mr He highlighted the major changes in the nutrition problems facing the countries in the Asia-Pacific region wherein significant proportions of the community have been plagued with diet-related chronic diseases. Developing countries are demonstrably increasingly at risk, as are the poorer populations of industrialized countries. As a result, there has been increased interest in the relationship between diet and diseases amongst the public. Many go to great lengths to find ways to reduce their risk to these diseases, including pursuing healthy nutrition.


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 provision of basic nutrient requirements, for example the ability to promote general well-being or even reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Foods containing such functional ingredients have been termed "functional foods". There has been a great deal of interest in functional foods across the globe, especially in the areas of research and development, regulatory discussions and in the trade and marketing of functional foods. Unfortunately, there are many uncertainties surrounding these products and no regulatory system in the world uses the term "functional foods".


In view of the worldwide significant health and economic implications of functional foods, Mr He said that the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific had deemed it important to organize this regional consultation. It was felt important to initiate discussions and to have some common understanding on the subject amongst nutritionists in view of their potential impact on the nutritional status and health of the populations. He noted that discussion topics included several specific areas of concern and interest, including attributes of functional foods, substantiation of functional and health claims, potential in health promotion, safety considerations and communication to the public. He expected participants to be making recommendations on these key areas of concern and on future activities.


Mr He wished everyone successful and productive deliberations and officially declared the Consultation open. The full text of He Changchui’s address is given in Appendix IV.


The Consultation adopted the provisional agenda and the timetable (Appendices V and VI) as proposed by Biplab K. Nandi.


The Consultation elected V. Prakash from India and Harun Kader M. Yusuf from Bangladesh as Chair and Co-Chair of the Consultation, respectively, while Carolina Bautista-Batallones from the Philippines and Zainab Tambi from Malaysia were elected as rapporteurs.


Mr Nandi briefed the Consultation on the objectives and organization of the Consultation. He gave a brief overview of the FAO perspectives of functional foods. He pointed out that the Workshop on functional foods that was organized by FAO as a pre-Codex Coordinating Committee for Asia meeting in Jeju, South Korea in September 2004 included presentations on safety evaluation, regulatory aspects, scientific substantiation of health claims and consumer perceptions of functional foods. Several country reports were presented, namely by Australia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. The results of a survey of functional foods in ten countries in Asia and recommendations of a regional workshop were also presented. He outlined the various occasions during which Codex discussed the topic of functional foods.


Mr Nandi noted that Southeast Asian countries had conducted several activities on functional foods in recent years. On the other hand, there appeared to be a lack of activities in South Asian countries. He hoped that there could be greater interaction and collaboration amongst all countries in Asia on the subject of functional foods after this consultation.

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