Symposium & Documentary Film Event: Globalism and the Commercialization of Life

Date: February 7, 2015 (Sat.)
Time: 13:30-16:00
Place: Tokyo Toshima Ward Labour Welfare Hall (10 min from JR Ikebukuro st.)
Fee: 500 Yen

We will screen Eggsploitation, a new documentary film about the infertility industry in the United States, which has grown to a multi-billion dollar business. Its main commodity is human eggs. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government also wants to expand the life business and medical treatment sector. This includes efforts to spur research and development in new fields such as IPS cells, genetic diagnosis, and synthetic biology, that are running out of control. We are aiming to create a movement against this trend and invite everyone to participate.

Speaker: Amagasa Keisuke, CUJ

Produced by The Center for Bioethics and Culture, Eggsploitation spotlights the booming business of human eggs told through the tragic and revealing stories of real women who became involved and whose lives have been changed forever. The film’s Executive Producer, Director, and Writer, Jennifer Lahl is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, hospital administrator, and senior-level nursing management with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice.

The film will be shown in English with Japanese subtitles.

Posted January 21st, 2015 in Biotechnology

Japan’s Booming Tourism Industry Needs A Reality Check

m4s0n501

To be a tourist in Japan can be both wonderful and frustrating at the same time. There is a lot to discover and many truly beautiful places to visit. For people who come to Japan for the first time, the delicious food is always one of the highlights, even if most menus are still only printed in Japanese. Oh well, sometimes sign language and a nice smile will save the day. And a little confusion can be a fun story to tell, at a later date.

However, the Japanese government seems hell-bent on further increasing the number of foreign tourists, without any concern for the real problems.

Popular places like Nara and Kyoto suffer from severely over-crowded roads. Even near the most famous temples and shrines, there are no efforts to ban cars and facilitate pedestrian safety. Last fall I was surprised to see thousands of visitors stand in line to get to see the illumination at Kiyomizu Temple, while taxis and even large coach buses were trying to reach the same spots on the narrow slopes. It wasn’t chaotic, but if an emergency had happened, there would have been no way for an ambulance or fire trucks to arrive.

Tokyo has the only proper tourist information center to cover all of Japan, located in a small office near Tokyo Station, and while their website is very good, most tourists prefer to use guidebooks written by foreigners. Smaller offices elsewhere are understaffed and can’t deal with all kinds of requests. For over 13 million foreign visitors arriving to Japan in 2014, that is clearly not enough. But the government seems hell-bent on counting heads (and revenue) rather than really considering the consequences.

Tourism is a service industry with very direct consumer issues. Hotels that don’t have non-smoking rooms, or restaurants with poor service, can ruin the experience of an expensive over-sea trip. For example, how are tourists supposed to know that there is almost no space for suitcases on the Shinkansen? Many promises are made that cannot be kept, but there seems to be nowhere to turn with legitimate complaints.

(English version of Martin’s essay published in CUJ’s Shouhisha Report No. 1569)

Posted January 21st, 2015 in CUJ Eco Nico

Japan Resources No 161

Happy holidays, and best wishes for the new year, from all of us at the office in Nishi-Waseda, Tokyo. Consumers Union of Japan participated in several international events, including the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD MOP7) meeting in Pyeongchang, South Korea, during 2014. We look forward to your support also in 2015, when we will step up our campaigns about food safety (the theme for the World Consumers Day on March 15, 2015 is “the right to healthy food”) and other urgent issues.

- Editors

Please download JR 161 (pdf file) August-December 2014

OP-ed Against TPP
Closing Statement by Civil Society at MOP7, 2014
GM Canola Contamination Cases in Japan (Side-event presentation at MOP7)
Impressions from the MOP7 in Pyeongchang, from the NGO Perspective
CBD Meeting at the House of Representatives, Tokyo

Posted December 24th, 2014 in Japan Resources

Op-Ed Against TPP by Ralph Nader and Koa Tasaka (Asahi Shimbun)

We got the following op-ed published in Japan’s Asahi Shimbun this week, co-signed by Ralph Nader from Public Citizen and Koa Tasaka from Consumers Union of Japan. It was written in response to a column that made unsubstantiated claims about TPP and consumers.

In its September 08, 2014 editorial, Asahi Shimbun argued that “Japan, U.S. should consider consumers, not industries, in reaching TPP deal.”
As consumer movement leaders in the U.S. and Japan, we agree that it is crucial that both countries prioritize consumer interests. However, we strongly disagree with the editorial’s unsupported assumption that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as it is currently being negotiated would benefit consumers.
What is important to consumers? Healthy and safe food. Banking and insurance services that protect their financial well-being. Affordable medicines and health care. Access to an open Internet and privacy protections. A clean environment.
From what we know about the TPP text, it would undermine these critical consumer priorities, not promote them.
Consider who has had the greatest influence on the TPP. Almost all of the 500 official U.S. private sector trade “advisors” represent corporate interests. While agribusiness, Wall Street, and pharmaceutical interests have had special access to the process and negotiating text, representatives from consumer, health, and other public interest organizations have been left in the dark. Even members of the U.S. Congress cannot easily access the draft text. Similarly in Japan, elected members of the Parliament are unable to provide any constructive input to the negotiations.
Due to the extreme secrecy of the negotiations, it is impossible to know everything damaging to consumers that may be included in the TPP text. However, leaked draft texts of some of the chapters have confirmed that the TPP rules would benefit large multinational corporations at the expense of consumers.
The leak of the TPP’s environmental chapter shows that the U.S., which is not a party to United Nation conventions such as the Climate Change Convention or the Biological Diversity Convention, will do everything it can to use TPP to continue to avoid rules suggested by the international community.
Also, a leak of the TPP’s investment chapter indicates that it will include Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a controversial system that grants foreign investors the right to sue governments in extrajudicial tribunals to demand taxpayer compensation for domestic policies or government actions that may diminish the investors’ future “expected profits.” This brazen infringement of national sovereignty has been used under NAFTA and other treaties by corporations to attack toxics bans, nuclear energy phase-outs, tobacco regulation, unsafe food import bans, financial stability measures, water and timber policies, mining safety rules, fracking bans, and more. The cases are heard by three private-sector lawyers, many of whom are in a conflict of interest as they rotate between serving as “judges” and suing governments for corporations. These cases cannot be appealed and there is no limit on what the tribunals can order governments to pay. This is corporate supremacy run amuck.
Under U.S. trade agreements alone, governments have been ordered to pay more than $430 million in compensation to corporations – with $38 billion more in claims now pending. And in some cases governments have also eliminated important consumer safeguards to avoid paying more. Or, to avoid threatened challenges, governments have been “chilled” from taking action, such as after R.J. Reynolds threatened Canada when it was considering stronger tobacco regulation. ISDS is not the only anti-consumer aspect of the TPP.
As well, a leaked draft of the Intellectual Property chapter revealed that TPP would expand the scope of medicine patents and strengthen drug monopolies, increasing the consumer price of crucial drugs. The TPP would also require countries to allow the importation of food that does not meet domestic safety standards. Under the Sanitary and Phytosanitary chapter, food labels providing important information for consumers could be challenged as a trade barrier, including labels for Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This is completely unacceptable in Japan, where we are asking for better protection of biological diversity, and Japan’s mandatory labeling rules should be improved, not challenged.
Despite the lessons learned from the global financial crisis, the TPP’s Financial Services chapter would limit our governments’ ability to regulate to preserve financial stability and protect consumers’ hard-earned savings. Draconian copyright provisions pushed by Hollywood could jeopardize consumers’ access to information on the Internet.
These are just a few examples of crucial consumer policies that could be jeopardized by the TPP in its current corporate dominated form.
So, yes, the U.S. and Japan have an obligation to protect consumer interests within an open democratic process. However, the TPP negotiations are achieving the opposite, posing a dire threat to consumer protection and the public interest. That is why many of the largest consumer organizations in the U.S. and Japan are vehemently opposed to the TPP’s dictatorial impacts.

Ralph Nader, Public Citizen
Koa Tasaka, Consumers Union of Japan

October 23, 2014 (私の視点)TPP 消費者への深刻な脅威だ ラルフ・ネーダー、田坂興亜

朝日新聞は、英文サイトに掲載した9月8日付の社説(本紙は7日付朝刊)で、TPP(環太平洋経済連携協定)は消費者にメリットをもたらすという前提でTPPに賛同するような姿勢を示したが、日米両国の消費者運動の主導的立場にあるものとしてTPPが内包する問題を提起したい。

Posted October 24th, 2014 in TPP, Trade

Closing Statement by Civil Society at MOP7, 2014

Little progress, conflict of interests & unabated unintentional transboundary movements

Closing Statement by Civil Society at MOP7

While we welcome the continued work on risk assessment and socio-economic considerations via the continuation of two AHTEGs (Ad Hoc Groups), progress on these issues is regrettably still too little, very late and largely repetitive. These two issues are of central importance to the Protocol, and to many Parties’ implementation of biosafety.

There must be no more delay in developing further guidance and guidelines in order to assist Parties in their implementation of the Protocol. Implementation is crucial to safeguarding biological diversity, human health, and the well being of peoples everywhere. In the composition of the two extended AHTEGs, civil society demands that potential conflict of interests (including financial and other vested interests) are transparently declared and scrutinized, and that the appropriate steps are taken to avoid conflicts of interest unduly influencing decisions.

We wish to remind Parties that the work of the socio-economic AHTEG must be within the scope and objective of the Protocol, which is to contribute to ensuring an adequate level of protection with regards to LMOs that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. The issue of the benefits of modern biotechnology is not within the scope, nor in line with the objective of this Protocol.

Cases of unintentional transboundary movement of LMOs continue unabated. This is exemplified here in Asia with the discovery of unapproved LM papaya imported into Japan and subsequently cultivated. There is urgent need for measures to prevent more cases from happening, and increased capacity to take emergency action where prevention is no longer possible. Illegal transboundary movement must be addressed.

Parties need to have the capacity to detect and identify LMOs , and LMO developers must provide the necessary information for authorities and citizens to detect and identify LMOs used both in field trials and commercially. This information must include sequence information and reference materials.

Parties can and should require this in their national biosafety laws. The Strategic Plan requires guidance on how to detect and take measures to respond to unintentional releases of LMOs to be developed.

We will meet the challenges of concurrent meetings of the COP and COP-MOPs in 2016. These organisational changes also have financial implications: the full and effective participation of developing countries, especially least developed countries, small island states and countries with economies in transition, must be ensured by providing adequate financial support.

Posted October 6th, 2014 in Uncategorized