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Updated: Jun 12

Health policies, such as food regulations and taxes that have been implemented in Colombia, have affected the distribution of Japanese food products sold in Colombia. In particular, the Sodium Law has led to the disruption of sales and decreased distribution of condiments, including soy sauce, produced in Japan.

By: Sakura NAKANO – International Business Internship CCJC, Tobitate! Study Abroad Initiative. 

Photo: Freepik

Why am I focusing on this topic? I am interested in the differences between the food cultures of Colombia and Japan due to the warning labels on many of the foods that are sold.

I have been living for a month in Colombia, and I have found interesting the fact that in this country they eat two snacks a day; the first one is consumed in the morning at nine o'clock and the second one is consumed in the afternoon after lunch. On the other hand, it was very impressive that most of the food products have labels that warn consumers if the product is high in sugar, sodium, or saturated fats.

Foto: Universidad de Antioquia

Colombians eat more frequently than the Japanese and tend to consume more sugar and salt due to their snacking habits between meals.

Colombians have a habit of snacking during the day, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In addition, they have the habit of drinking coffee with sugar along with foods rich in sugar and salt. On the other hand, most Japanese eat three meals a day and are not in the habit of snacking between meals. In the case of consuming a snack or refreshment, this product contains less sugar compared to the products sold in Colombia, so many prefer to drink tea or coffee without sugar.

Colombians consume approximately two times more sugar than the Japanese.

According to Asocaña, which is the Colombian Sugar Cane Growers Association, Colombia's per capita sugar consumption in 2023 reached 34 kilograms. On the other hand, Japan's per capita sugar consumption in 2023 was 15.2 kilograms. This corresponds to a per capita sugar consumption in Colombia approximately two times higher than in Japan.

Likewise, Colombians use panela or sugar, to sweeten their drinks. Panela is a Colombian product made by hand from the juice of sugar cane, which, after going through several boiling processes, loses its moisture and turns into molasses. On average, 22 kg of panela is consumed per person per year in different presentations.

The number of patients with diseases caused by salt and sugar consumption is increasing, causing an increase in deaths every year. It is becoming a public health problem, as the causes of death are increasing and worsening in Colombia.

Excessive consumption of salt and sugar is said to increase the likelihood of developing diseases such as ischemic heart disease and chronic lower respiratory diseases.

According to the DANE report, which is the entity in charge of producing and communicating official statistical information about Colombia from April 1 to 30, 2023, the main cause of death in Colombia are ischemic heart diseases. We also find diseases related to cerebrovascular diseases in second place and chronic diseases of the lower respiratory tract in third place. Therefore, you should reduce the number of snacks and change them to fruits, so that you can control the intake of too much sugar and promote the elimination of too much salt from your diet.

Source: DANE

To solve this problem, Colombia began to implement health policies such as the Sodium Regulation Law and the introduction of a health tax.

The Colombian government introduced the Sodium Law, the Junk Food Law, and the health tax. The government believes that the regulation of these products will lead to an increase in the prices of these products, causing a decrease in consumption and access to these products for the public. This policy is intended to reduce the risk of disease among the population and, in the long term, to reduce costs to the health system.

What is the Sodium Law?

The Sodium Law, which was passed in 2020 to reduce the nation's salt intake, went into effect in November 2022. The 2013 resolution of 2020, required that by November 9, 2022, and November 9, 2024, the maximum sodium content per food be within the values established for each phase. The resolution called for the maximum sodium content to be within the values established for each phase.

What is the Junk Food Law?

The Junk Food Law was approved in Colombia in July 2021. It came into force in 2023, when the warning labeling on foods high in salt, sugar and fat was implemented. The objective is to promote a healthy eating environment, especially for children and adolescents, as well as to prevent having high blood pressure and developing diseases such as diabetes, which are caused by salt and sugar consumption.

Sugar-sweetened beverages: for beverages with a sugar content of 6 to 10 grams per 100 milliliters, the tax will be 18 pesos per 100 milliliters in 2023 and 28 pesos in 2024; for beverages with 10 grams or more, the tax will be 35 pesos in 2023 and 55 pesos in 2024. In 2025, beverages with a sugar content of 5 to 9 grams per 100 milliliters will be taxed at 38 pesos per 100 milliliters and 65 pesos for beverages with a sugar content of 9 grams or more. As of 2026, the tax will be determined annually based on the tax value unit (UVT).

Ultra-processed foods: a health tax of 10% in 2023, 15% in 2024 and 20% in 2025 and thereafter will be imposed on foods with a sodium content higher than 300 milligrams per 100 grams or 1 milligram per kilocalorie, a sugar content and a saturated fatty acid content higher than 10% of total energy.

How does this health policy affect Japanese Colombian food in Colombia?

We see that the new legislation on warning labels on food products is affecting foods of Japanese origin, such as soy sauce and mayonnaise. Due to the Sodium Law, the import, manufacture and sale of regular soy sauce, oyster sauce and other Japanese condiments with high sodium content were banned, so they could possibly disappear from supermarkets and other stores by 2024. In 2021, imports of these products from Japan amounted to about $350,000, while soy sauce from the U.S. alone amounted to about $710,000. According to the above, it is expected that the company will suffer great losses due to this regulation. For this reason, some companies began to change the flavors of their products, such as the soy sauce that is currently on the market.

However, in the second phase, restrictions on high-salt products will be further accelerated, which will hurt the sale of Japanese soy sauce. Fortunately, The Sodium Law was amended on December 22, 2023, to relax the maximum sodium content limit for 'TENNEN HAKKO SYOU' used in Japanese cuisine, and 'GENEN TENNEN HAKKO SYOU' which is low in sodium, will be able to continue to be distributed after November 9, 2024, when the final phase of regulation begins. However, the market for Japanese condiments in Colombia remains difficult.

In fact, many operators voiced opposition, so the Culinary Academy, local producers, and Colombian factories were then brought together to revisit the regulations. One of the reasons for the current deregulation is believed to be that it was recognized that these products are not consumed alone, but as preparations, and therefore the amount used would be much lower than the permitted limit.


Excessive consumption of sugar, salt, etc. can be harmful to the organism. Therefore, we believe it is necessary to experiment with sanitary policies.

However, these Japanese products are ingested directly, such as condiments and sauces to prepare food, and if used in moderation, will not lead to excessive consumption of sugar and salt. It is difficult to change the consumption habits of Colombians on a daily basis; however, Colombia is a country where fruits and vegetables are cheaper compared to Japan. Therefore, it is a good opportunity to start consuming more fruits and vegetables to improve your health, and it has a great variety of these products that are very tasty and unique. On the other hand, I hope they will reevaluate the regulations and try Japanese condiments more often.


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