Soaring Cost of Vegetables Won’t End Soon

The soaring cost of vegetables is not about to end. I recently saw cabbage in the supermarket that was cut in quarters sold for 170 Yen, which is an unusually high price. Even at the Agricultural Co-operative store, where vegetables are sold directly to customers, most of the vegetables were small and off-colour. I could feel they had put a lot of effort into harvesting, but even there, the prices were higher than usual.

Turning on the TV, there was an interview with a seller at a bargain grocery shop, who said prices won’t come down soon. It is assumed that the reason is unusually bad weather, but I do not subscribe to that opinion. Instead, it seems there is something unbalanced in the structural model of demand and supply.

Regarding the so-called supply side, there is a decline in productivity. Farmers have already depended on foreign labour for quite some time. But industries like construction and the service sector are also increasingly hiring foreign labourers, thus squeezing the agricultural sector even further. As a consequence, the model of mass production, mass selling, and mass consumption has begun to malfunction.

Furthermore, the rapidly aging of farmers and agricultural workers means fewer people are involved in production. This has an immediate effect on markets, grocery stores and local restaurants that relies on local supply. In addition, there has been a sharp increase in the number of vacant houses in rural villages, showing how serious things have become. The entire production system might be close to collapse.

How about the demand side? Recently, the supermarket shelves with ready-cut vegetables have become a big thing. People seem to prefer not to spend time or effort preparing and cooking food. Are we getting to the point where robots will enter Japan’s food factories and do the work for us? So, what can be done? I think this is a problem the consumer movement will need to consider from now on.

By Ono Kazuoki, CUJ

January 16, 2018

Posted January 24th, 2018 in Food, Food Security

”Consumer Rights” v.s. “Consumer Life”

In 1962 for the first time, consumer rights were advocated by President Kennedy in the US. Here in Japan, we had just entered the era when slogans such as “consumption is a virtue” became popular. In 1980, the International Organization of Consumers Unions (IOCU, now known as Consumers International) developed the idea further by establishing eight fundamental consumer rights. They are:

1 Right to Basic Needs

2 Right to Safety

3 Right to Information

4 Right to Choose

5 Right to Representation

6 Right to Redress

7 Right to Consumer Education

8 Right to a Healthy Environment

 

Currently, we are in the final stages of the debate about improving the GMO labelling system in Japan. We regard information about which foods are genetically manipulated to be an important and fundamental consumer right.

However, Japan’s ruling party and the government do not seem to like this concept of “consumer rights.” In Umeda Masami’s book, The History of Japanese Nationalism, he explains how in 1982, the Education Ministry’s textbook for writing changed its recommendation from “Do not use this term” to “Write like this.” For example, “consumer rights” was no longer recommended, and instead, “consumer life” should be used. Other official recommendations were also made, including terms for writing about defense and the atomic bomb. Seen in this light, it becomes clear that the government dislikes the idea that consumers have rights, and we can understand why this concept is being systematically neglected.

By Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ

January 22, 2018

Posted January 24th, 2018 in Biotechnology, Civil Rights

Who Pays for Genome Editing and Gene Drive Research?

Controversial new genetic engineering technologies are being explored by researchers. Many doubts remain and the critics want a ban or a moratorium, especially on gene editing on human embryos. There is strong concern about letting out animals or insects, like mosquitos, into the wild. Genetically modified mosquitos are in fact only one of the first in a long line of projects. For example, genome editing and gene drives can be used to eradicate entire populations of animals. There are “terminator” projects underway to alter cattle so that only male offspring are born. No females. It is not difficult to imagine that it would become possible to do the same with certain groups of humans.

Now we are learning the scary truth about the secret financial backing for gene drives and other forms of genome editing. In early December, 2017 activists at Third World Network could reveal emails reporting how the US military is the top funding agency, having spent 100 million US dollar on gene drive research. The emails show that the shadowy US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the key funder of efforts to develop gene drive mice. Also, lobbying funding has come from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Gene drives are a powerful and dangerous new technology and potential biological weapons could have disastrous impacts on peace, food security and the environment, especially if misused,” said Jim Thomas of ETC Group. Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth, U.S. notes: “Gene drives could have profound ecological, health and socio-economic impacts.” It makes a lot of sense to step up our campaign against these dangerous technologies. I’m proud of Consumers Union of Japan for taking the lead in this battle. We need more people and consumers to become aware of this difficult issue.

Read more:

ETC Group: The Gene Drive Files

MIT Technology Review: Meet the Woman Using CRISPR to Breed All-Male “Terminator Cattle”

IFOAM: The global organic food and farming movement calls for the regulation of new genetic engineering techniques as GMOs

Nature.com: CRISPR, the disruptor

(English version of Martin’s essay published in CUJ’s Shouhisha Report No. 1605, January 2018)

Posted January 17th, 2018 in Biotechnology, CUJ Eco Nico, Japan Resources

Japan Resources – No 169

Please click here CUJ-JR-169 for the latest issue of Japan Resources, our English newsletter.

In this issue we introduce our new campaign against genome-manipulated food, part of our strong resistance against GMOs in general. Field trials have started even though the government is slow to act to protect consumers or farmers. The debate about nuclear power is also high-lighted with Monju, the controversial fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture in the news.

We hope you will continue to stay updated with CUJ’s activities and news on our English website, and support our campaigns!

Contents:

From the Editors: Resistance and Resilience
Campaign Against Genome-manipulated Food
Press Release: Appeal for World Food Day
Food Security: Japan’s Self-sufficiency Rate for Sesame Seed Only 0.1%
Is the Consumer Agency in Fact the Industry Agency?
Pluto and Monju
News Flash: Monju Reactor Set for Decommissioning Lacks Sodium Removal Method

Please download the PDF file or read it here on our English website.

Posted December 26th, 2017 in Biodiversity, Biotechnology, Energy, Food Security, Japan Resources, Nuclear

Food Security: Japan’s Self-sufficiency Rate for Sesame Seed Only 0.1%

One of the main pillars of Consumers Union of Japan is that we care deeply about food safety, which is connected to food security issues. We constantly try to monitor food production and are concerned about how things are developing or rather, deteriorating. Sometimes, we are taken by surprise. So, when I read in the newsletter from the Kansai-based Yotsuba Group that Japan’s self-sufficiency rate for sesame seed has dropped to 0.1%, well, it turned out to be one of many such cases.

The main place for growing sesame seed is a small island called Kikaijima in Kagoshima prefecture, in southern Japan, part of the Amami Islands. Their white sesame is a local variety that accounts for around 70% of Japan’s total domestic sesame seed production. But, for several years, abnormal weather and especially rain from typhoons have wrecked havoc on the small island’s farms, due to global climate change. Volcanic activity nearby has also brought unusual levels of ash to the fields. Taken together, domestic sesame seed farming in Japan is currently in great danger.

Another example is the small citrus fruit called sudachi in Japanese (which is also grown in Peru). Just like sesame, this is an important ingredient in Japanese traditional cooking. But when I checked, the farmers tell me many of them are getting too old to continue growing this special product. Also, there are places where tea will no longer be grown unless efforts are made to seriously support local and regional farms as well as the companies that bring such wonderful gifts to the market. This is a serious issue we call “food security” which is fundamental when we start discussing “food safety” and other concerns. Consumers Union of Japan continues to be at the forefront of the debate to resolve these important issues.

By Ono Kazuoki, CUJ

December 18, 2017

Posted December 24th, 2017 in Biodiversity, Food, Food Security

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