Industry Advice Notice no. 2006/08 - New Japanese MRL Laws

​Date issued - 17 February 2006

This Industry Advice Notice is to provide information about important changes to the way Japan will regulate agricultural chemical residues in food.

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) will introduce a “positive list system” for agricultural chemical residues remaining in foods from 26 May 2006. Current Japanese law only permits the MHLW to act against maximum residue limits, or MRLs, for a limited number of chemicals. The positive list system will mean that MRLs for all agricultural chemicals will be regulated; therefore a positive list is being compiled.

Details of the new system were published in the Japanese Government Gazette on 29 November 2005 and at present are only available in Japanese. There is some information available in English on the MHLW website.

The new regulations include:

  • new "provisional" (though legally binding) MRLs for 799 chemicals;
  • 15 chemicals - the residues of which are not to occur in food;
  • MRLs for 61 chemicals in certain processed foods (other processed food-chemical combination MRLs recalculated from their ingredients’ MRLs);
  • 65 substances (vitamins, minerals etc) which are exempt;
  • adoption of WHO residue standards for bottled water, and
  • a default MRL for all other chemicals of 0.01 ppm (i.e. 10 ppb). 

The provisional MRLs are based on existing Codex standards, or Japanese law. In some cases Japan referred to MRLs established in countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Provisional MRLs are expected to be reviewed over time and on-going change is expected.

If imported foods are found with residues above the relevant Japanese MRL, the MHLW will increase its own monitoring to 50 per cent of all shipments of that commodity from the source, usually a whole country for unprocessed or semi-processed products. If a second breach is detected, 100 per cent testing becomes mandatory (at the trade's expense) and all shipments will be held in bond pending the results. This requirement would remain in place until the ministry is convinced that further breaches will not occur.

For further information about Japan's changes to regulations on chemical residues contact the Food Safety Branch in the Product Integrity, Animal & Plant Health (PIAPH) Division of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). Phone: (02) 6272 5507.

Mike Robbins
A/g Manager, Horticulture Export Program

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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